James 1:17-27 with Waldenström’s Commentary

The Epistle lesson for the Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost

by Paul Peter Waldenström and translated by Tommy Carlson

Dr. Paul Peter Waldenström based his comments on a Greek New Testament text which he translated into Swedish. Tommy Carlson has translated both the Biblical text and Waldenström’s comments from the Swedish text, 2nd Edition, 1902. — Ed.

Verse 17—Every good gift1 and every perfect present2 is from above, descended from the father3 of light in whom there is no change or a shadow of change.4

1. James shows that it is impossible that God should tempt someone to evil. From God comes every good gift but nothing evil.
2. The word "present" describes the gift as pure grace for the profit of humankind.
3. Father of the big shining heavenly bodies. Light is a representation of goodness and purity.
4. The light from the stars is subject to change. With God, who is the father of light, there is no such imperfection.

Verse 18 — According to his will he has created us1 through the word of truth,2 in that we may be like a first born3 of his creation.

1. The highest proof of God’s goodness, mentioned in verse 17, is that he has created us anew. This new spiritual birth from above (John 3:5) is the greatest gift that can be imagined. If God’s will is such, how could he tempt someone to sin?
2. That is to say, through the Gospel.
3. The author alludes to the law of Moses. The first born of humans and animals, as well as the first fruit from the trees and the fields, should belong to God. Us and we mean the believers in Israel—Jews, the first fruit of Christ’s work.

Verse 19 — Know my loving brothers but1 let every person be quick to listen,2 slow to speak3 slow to anger,4 James 3:1 ff.

1. Through this "but" the contrast is made with what follows.
2. James applies this general thesis to the believers that they need to be quick to hear God’s word.
3. A person should not be quick to speak no matter what the subject. Believers need, above all to observe "Speech is silver, but silence is gold." The one who speaks much, sins much.
4. It was easy for the poor, believing Jews in their oppression to be tempted to impatience and anger toward God and people.

Verse 20 — because a man’s anger does not affect God’s righteousness.1

1. Meaning that which is right before God.

Verse 21 — For that reason lay away all uncleanness1 and excess of wickedness,2 receive in meekness the implanted 3 word 4 that can save your souls.5 Colossians 3:8; I Peter 2:1 ff.; Luke 8:11, 15.

1. The word "uncleanness" can either mean indecent (obscene) nature (disposition) or the uncleanness of wickedness. The first meaning is preferable.
2. This is not "a moderate" wickedness. There was much wickedness among his readers that needed to be removed.
3. God’s word is often compared to seed which is planted in the earth (compare Matthew 13).
4. If one’s mind is agitated with evil, one is incapable of receiving the word. Therefore meekness, meaning a tranquil mind, is required. God’s word had been planted in them at the time of their conversion. But for the sake of their spiritual lives, they need to hear it again and receive it in their hearts.
5. James observes that the believers salvation is forthcoming. They are converted and new born, and they shall become saved if they keep the faith until the end (Matthew 10:22).

Verse 22 — But be1 doers of the word and not only listeners, deceiving yourselves.2 Matthew 7:21, 24; Romans 2:13; I John 3:7.

1. The author does not merely say exist but rather be. "Here is not so much an existence but rather a being" (Luther).
2. The one who believes that it is enough to hear the word, deceives himself—a common mistake among the Jews.

Verse 23 — For if someone is the listener of the word and not the doer, it is like someone who regards their natural face1 in a mirror2

1. Verbatim: The face with which you were born
2. The old mirrors were made from metal and did not give the same clear reflection as our glass mirrors.

Verse 24 — because he viewed himself and walked away and immediately forgot what he looked like.1

1. In the same way, he who only listens to the word goes away and forgets what he heard so that it is never done.

Verse 25 — But the one who has looked into,1 the perfect law of freedom2 and has remained,3 not a forgetful listener but an active doer, that one shall be blessed 4 in his work.5

1. In the original this means to bend over something to see it better.
2. Freedom’s perfect law means God’s law through Christ’s perfection. Only the one who in spirit and life agrees with this law is free. See Jeremiah 31:31 ff.; John 8:36.
3. Did not leave like the man in verse 24.
4. Having blessing in the heavenly kingdom. Here is the eternal salvation for which the God-fearing wait (Verse 21).
5. Their work is the reason for their blessedness. If they were merely listeners and not doers of, they would not be blessed.

Verse 26 — If someone considers himself a worshipper of God, and does not restrain his tongue1 but rather deceives his heart, his worship of God is a conceit. I Peter 3:10.

1. This is one of several places in this letter showing that the sin of the tongue was common among the congregations to whom the author was writing.

Verse 27 — A worship of God that is clean and unblemished1 before God the father is this: look after the fatherless and widows in their suffering and keep oneself unblemished from the world.2

1. Here are two other examples of doing the word—compassion and separation from the world.
2. So that one cannot be dragged in and contaminated by the world’s nature. This is always a great fear for God’s children because of their contact with the world where they must be.