2-4: We can rejoice when our faith in God is tested with temptation, persecution or doubts because enduring them produces sanctification and devotion to God.
5-8: Anyone who asks God for wisdom without doubting will receive it. The type of doubter described here is an unstable, non-committed person who has trouble believing God can or will answer his prayers. Honest doubt is okay and should be acknowledged but those committed to doubt should not expect anything from God.
9-11: These verses only make sense when you consider that the entire section (Verses 2-17) are about facing trials and temptations, though verses 5-8 are parenthetical. The trials of poor and rich are often quite different so they're given different instructions in dealing with temptation. Although the poor person may be tempted to covet or despise his lowly position, he should instead boast in the exultation he will one day have because of Jesus. In contrast, the rich person may be tempted to trust in his wealth and boast about his status in life. Yet his boast should be that he is a fragile, temporary being reliant on Jesus for eternal life and true riches.
12: Christians who endure temptation will receive a reward at the judgement seat of Christ. It's not clear exactly what the "crown of life" is but we know from the rest of scripture that it can't be salvation, which can only be purchased through Jesus' atonement.
13-15: We cannot blame our temptations on God. He doesn't tempt us nor can he himself be tempted by sin. Because we are sinful, it's our own desires are the source of temptation. On top of this, we build addictions and sinful patterns that have power over us. Sin ultimately brings about spiritual and physical death.
16-18: All genuinely good things ultimately come from God, who does not change.
1-7: There is no room in the Christian community for discriminating against the poor and favoring the rich. Both poor and rich are heirs of God's kingdom. Because we get our value from God, earthly wealth has nothing to do with the importance of a person and everyone should be treated with respect as equals.
8-11: If we obey God's laws but fail at one point, like showing partiality toward the rich, then we are transgressors guilty of breaking the entire law. We can't pick and choose which commandments to obey.
12-13: Being "judged under the law of liberty" is to be judged by grace, on the basis of Jesus' merits rather than our own. Those who show no mercy when judging others demonstrate they have not experienced God's mercy.
14-26: James makes a distinction between to kinds of faith: 1. A mere mental affirmation of truths about God (the way demons believe). 2. A trust in God that results in action (the way Abraham and Rahab trusted in God). James gives several illustrations to show the distinction between the two kinds of faith, ending with the most powerful and direct illustration: Just as we know the body is dead without a soul, we know a person's faith is dead without works. With saving faith the two work together and cannot be separated.
1: Teachers of God's word are held to a greater standard because they have more opportunities to fall into hypocrisy by not "practicing what they preach". James wanted aspiring teachers to know the spiritual implications before committing to this very important role.
2-12: The tongue is the vehicle that manifests our sinful thoughts into words, often causing great destruction. In the same way a small fire can set a forest ablaze, It is possible to ruin our lives and others with a few simple words. The tongue has caused wars, hatred, broken relationships, destroyed families, and caused countless other sins. The primary problems caused by the tongue listed here are boasting and cursing others, who God made in His image.
13-18: Wisdom from God is shown in a person's life through good works with unselfish motives, fairness, mercy towards others and sincerity. Earthly Wisdom mimics the rebellious, immoral behavior of demons and is driven by selfish motives.
1-3: James warns his readers against worldliness and the effect it can have. Sinful passions cause us to covet what other people have, sometimes leading to hatred and even murder. We do not have the things we covet because we don't even bother asking God. And even when we do ask, we don't receive them because we ask with sinful motives.
4-6: The world system (man's lust, pride, and godless philosophy) is opposed to God. Therefore, anyone who approves and promotes these things is an enemy of God. Pride is part of the world system while humility is not.
7: Our submissive attitude toward God and resistance of evil temptation causes demonic tempters to flee.
8-10: The first step to drawing near to God is repentance. When God convicts us we become heartbroken over the evil we've done. Our "joy turns to gloom" because we have sinned against God. We must acknowledge that we are wretched sinners who can't save ourselves, turning away from the sins we once loved. Jesus' sacrifice is the only sufficient means to cleanse us from our sins. When we reach this point of humility God will exalt us.
11-12: The humility spoken of in the previous verses leaves no room for self righteous, evil judgement toward others. As guilty sinners limited in knowledge we aren't in a position to make thorough, fair judgments towards others. God is the only judge and lawgiver. He knows all things and can accurately judge the motives and actions of each person.
13-16: This passage is addressing the arrogant, self promoting person who boasts of the great things he will do in the future. This person believes he is in control, ignoring the fact that his life is short and fragile. No one can achieve anything without God allowing it in his sovereignty. It's appropriate to acknowledge this fact when planning for the future.
17: Not only is disobeying God wrong, it's also a sin when we know the good we ought to do yet fail to do it.
1-6: We know this passage is not a blanket condemnation of all rich people because it calls out the evils done by a very specific type of person. They live in self indulgence, trust in their riches, fail to pay their laborers out of greed and murder righteous people. God hears the cries of the oppressed and will judge their oppressors.
7-11: Believers are commanded to be patient because God will judge evildoers when he returns. We must avoid complaining because we will also be judged. The unwavering commitment of the prophets serve as examples for us and we can rest in the merciful God we see all throughout scripture.
12: The Christian should not have to qualify his promises with phrases such as " I swear to God" or "God as my witness". It's not only a flippant use of the Lord's name, it implies that our word by itself can't be trusted. We are commanded to be direct and honest when we speak.
13: We should come to God in prayer not only when we are sick and suffering but also when we're cheerful, praising Him for what he has done. We wouldn't ignore our loved ones when everything is going well and neither should we treat God this way.
14-16: Prayer has the power to heal the sick unless it's God's will that we remain sick. The elder's "anointing with oil" is likely a symbolic act similar to communion or baptism (though not a requirement for the Christian).
17-18: James uses the example Elijah's prayer to demonstrate how powerful prayer can be. We are not guaranteed to have miraculous things like this happen to us, but it is in principle possible if God chooses to allow it.
19-20: This passage is speaking of the person who never truly received Christ and wanders from the truth. If they are brought back and receive God's mercy, they will be saved from judgement and a lifestyle of sin.