v1: James was a leading apostle, compare Jude 1. He was a servant of Jesus Christ, see Gen 24.34, where Abraham's servant identified himself only by his master's name.
The twelve tribes, referring to Jews scattered following the Babylonian exile. At that time 10 tribes were effectively lost, in that only Judah and Levi (largely) had returned, James saw the wider picture of Jews knowing Christ, see Matt 10.5-6.
Assuming James was Jesus' brother, the similarity with Jesus' style is not surprising. There is a practical rather than doctrinal approach to a range of issues. James's style is that of a preacher, addressing people with him. He is very practical, even in the style of Proverbs. He begins each section, "my brethren."
v2: James introduces his first theme, the nature of true religion. Here is something that is real, and spiritual, and is in contradiction to the standards of the world.
James wrote to people who suffered "trials of many kinds," yet trials are an ordinary part of life for all of us. Our reaction should be to rejoice, to welcome as friends. The reason is that trials are of value to us spiritually; and we see all things as being sent from God to strengthen our faith. Rather than seeking to avoid trials sent to us, we must see them as an essential part of our spiritual development. We know too that the Lord is with us in our trials, Acts 5.41; Heb 12.11.
v3-4: The fruit of welcoming trials is in spiritual character, Prov 28.20; Rom 5.3-5. In particular, we become patient, through which we develop maturity.
v5: The need of wisdom from God. Through such wisdom we understand better our trials, and their value to us; illustrated in 1 Kings 3.10. Such wisdom is something spiritual, not natural.
In our asking, we know that God is generous, giving to all, liberally, and without finding fault (that is, without bringing blame or accusation against us), see Rom 8.32.
v6-8: The true Christian has real faith, confidence that God will do what He promised, Matt 21.22. Contrast Gen 49.4, Reuben was unstable as water.
Doubt is the enemy of faith. The promise here is that God will answer. Our doubt questions His ability and willingness to answer.
Eph 4.14 refers to the immature Christian being tossed about, see 1 Tim 2.8. The real Christian is single-minded, full of conviction and decision.
v9-11: Commitment in Christ; beware the folly of exalting in, or trusting in, earthly riches. The world lusts for material possessions; and we must be different. The lowly brother is a brother, and therefore must be accepted, see 2.2-4. A person is not accepted for what he has, but for who he is. James goes further, and invites the lowly, or poor, to exalt in their circumstances.
James refers several times to the rich. There was perhaps an implication (rather than explicit teaching) in the churches, that such wealth was a blessing from God as a reward for their godliness. James answers this error. In 2.6, he indicates that many achieved their wealth, or maintain it, by dishonest means. Paul wrote of those who "god is their stomach" (Phil 3.19).
v12: Trials are different from temptations, although temptations do bring trials. Resisting temptations does strengthen us spiritually. We must endure, for temptations are repeated, or prolonged, and are difficult, or deceitful.
God does not tempt anyone; but He does allow us to experience temptation as a trial, testing our faith. God sends trials to strengthen us; the devil engineers temptation to destroy us.
The Greek word (HUPOMENO) infers an on going patience in on going trials.
Our crown of life, see also Phil 4.1; 1 Thess 2.19-20.
v13-15: God's perfect and holy character make it impossible that He could bring temptation and sin. Temptation comes from within, Matt 15.18-20; we are mistaken if we seek to attribute all temptation to the devil. It is true that he is the source of all evil, but the fallen human spirit is a powerful force; it is his ally within.
David was tempted when he should have been fighting; disobedience in one area can make us susceptible to temptation in another.
Sin is serious, since it leads to death.
v16: We are so easily deceived; that we are exempt from sin, and that we will always be victorious. "My dear brothers," see v19; 2.5; James loves those to whom he writes, even though he is quite firm with them. He does not write to discourage them, but to strengthen them.
v17-18: God does not bring temptation, but He does bring every good and perfect gift.
He is unchanging and unchangeable. No shadow of turning, like a sundial; no variation, like the moon.
He is the God of salvation, which is His work. He brought us faith through His word of the gospel; His choice and initiative. We are the first fruits of creation, a special privilege.
v19: True religion is evidenced in our actions and attitudes, see v26; Prov 10.19.
v20: Human wrath, impatience, indignation does not demonstrate the righteous character of God. The first answer is to bridle the tongue, v26.
v21: The challenge - to lay aside all filthiness and overflowing wickedness, dealing ruthlessly with ourselves.
The command - to receive the implanted word with meekness; this demands obedience and submission. The word is implanted since we have faith in Christ.
The promise - that word can save our souls. This is a reference to Christian experience.
v22-24: The lesson is to listen and to obey. James' homely illustration brings home this point with great effectiveness; the person looks into a mirror, but immediately forgets what he looks like. A mirror in the ancient world was made of polished metal, not glass; it was therefore necessary to look intently.
The danger here is that we deceive ourselves, having looked into God's word, and having agreed with it, but not doing it. We may be impressed by an explanation of God's word, but we must apply it into our lives.
v25: The perfect law that brings freedom; a balanced description of God's word. Look into it, continue in it, and do it; the promise is great blessing. Note that we are judged by that same law (2.12). There is the need for careful personal application of the word into our lives.
v26-27: Summarising true religion. The tongue to be guarded, with a tight rein. Practical caring, visiting orphans and widows; often an unseen work. Separation from the world, maintaining a godly distinctive in our lives.