Thus far in James’ epistle we have seen that he had pointed to a great trial that had come upon the churches in the Diaspora sometime after Paul’s imprisonment. Paul had warned the brethren when he was with them that the man of sin would be restrained, until he (Paul) was taken out of the way (2Thessalonians 2:7). The “mystery of iniquity” or the secret (plan) of wickedness was already working, but Paul was able to keep it at bay while he was free. Now, however, he was in prison, and no man had the clout Paul had with the churches in Greece and Asia.
James addressed the brethren saying they needed to rejoice in the humility of their hearts, because therein they were exalted in the Lord, sitting with him in the heavenly places (James 1:9; Ephesians 2:6). We may also rejoice in that those rich (in themselves), they who exalt themselves over us, have such power only temporarily. The then present trial was taking its toll upon the churches of God scattered throughout the Diaspora, but the days of the power of those who are rich in themselves are numbered, and the glory of those who are exalted in the power of this world will fade away (James 1:10-11). Nevertheless, those who, through humility of heart, endure to the end will be given the crown of life—i.e. life’s crown a crown given to those who live their life in such a manner throughout their trial that it expresses their commitment to and their undying love for Christ (James 1:12).
The gifts of God’s Spirit are good and perfect (James 1:17), equipping us with all we need to grow and mature in Christ. Furthermore, God doesn’t change his mind when it comes to his call or what he gives to us (Romans 11:29). He isn’t fickle like we are. The picture James gives us in his letter is that of the orbit of the earth (change in seasons) and of the phases of the moon (variableness of light). However, God is consistent no matter what our outward circumstances or our inward maturity. Therefore, when we find ourselves failing when we are tried, it isn’t because God hasn’t provided for us, because he has. All his gifts are good and perfect (James 1:17). If we find ourselves yielding to the temptations of the trial, it is because we are drawn away from him through our own worldly desires. In the case concerning James’ letter, those who fell for the innovative doctrines of the false teachers erred (James 1:14-16), because they liked having their ears tickled (2Timothy 4:3-4). They were drawn to the false teachers, because they wanted to hear what they taught.
Nevertheless, it is never God’s intention to abandon those who fail (James 1:18), we are begotten of him through the word of the Gospel, a kind of firstfruits out of mankind. We are his no matter what. Therefore, be ready to listen to the truth, but slow to speak (teach) and slow to be angry with those who have sought to deceive us (James 1:19), because our anger does not attain to the righteousness of God. Therefore, let God judge those who have worked their wiles against us. We should not do as they have done (James 1:20). If any repent, we need to be ready to forgive.
Believers who have erred are called upon to repent and meekly return to the word that was implanted within their hearts through the preaching of the Gospel (James 1:21). Pure and undefiled religion is not simply teaching the word of God, but visiting the widow and the fatherless in the day of their trouble—sharing with them—and not yielding to the ways of this world (James 1:27). Anyone who seems to be religious, but doesn’t keep his words in check is self-deceived and the service he thinks is honoring God is vain—it seeks to honor self (James 1:26). James explained that those who merely listen to but don’t practice the word are self-deceived (James 1:22). They are already being drawn away by their own, human desires (James 1:13-14). They believe they are acting righteously, but they are not judging themselves according to the perfect law of liberty (James 1:23-24), which is to love God with all one’s heart, mind soul and strength, and to love one another as one’s self. Had they continued in this, they would not have been forgetful hearers and erred. Only those who practice the perfect law of liberty are blessed by God in what they do (James 1:25).
So, James wrote his letter specifically to the believing Jews throughout the empire who had suddenly found themselves in a great trial (James 1:1-2). Although believing gentiles were affected with their Jewish brethren, James’ epistle was aimed at Jewish believers. The trial involved speaking (James 1:26) something that had led some believers away from the Gospel that had begotten them (James 1:21) and away from doing good works that honor God (James 1:27). Only those who endured the trial of their faith and continued in the practice doing good as expressed in the perfect law of liberty were blessed in all they did (James 1:12, 25).