James 1-2 The Royal Law of Freedom

TMS 1 Corinthians 15:58 It's Always Too Soon To Quit 

1Cor 15:58 “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord. 

Observations: 15:58 Concluding the great chapter on the good news and the resurrection, Paul exhorts the believers to not give up serving the Lord. The word for labor means “to be beat up” as in work that sucks everything out of you. Believers are tempted to quit or slack off when the going gets tough, but in doing so they would miss out on the glory God has planned for faithful believers who please Him by doing His will. It there is no resurrection and reward of the faithful, then we might as well eat, drink, and be merry, for when we die, it's all over. But if there are rewards and differing degrees of glory as the gospel clearly taught (see 1 Corinthians 15 comments if you don't totally believe this), then it's time to buck up and face the wild beasts. God gives enabling grace to do His will in this life (2 Corinthians 12:9), and glorifies us with grace in the next life for doing His will in this one (1 Peter 1:13). It's all of grace, but works are still needed.
Peter 1:13 “Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
Application: When tempted to take the easy road, remember that the path to glory which Jesus trod is difficult, and uphill (that's where you'll find Him with your reward).
Prayer: Lord Jesus, may I follow in Your footsteps as Your disciple, doing the works You saved me to do, faithfully and steadfastly by Your grace. Amen.

James 1-2 The epistle of Jacob (which was translated as James to secure the backing of a certain king for a famous translation -KJV) was probably the earliest epistle written and one of the last to be accepted into the canon. Medieval Martin Luther didn't regard James as authoritative because “In the first place it is flatly against St. Paul and all the rest of Scripture in ascribing justification to works 2:24.” He also wrote “...the epistle of St. James is an epistle full of straw, because it contains nothing evangelical.” Like many today Luther read his pre-suppositions and experiences into the text, rather than letting the Scriptures shape his understanding; he also failed to understand that words have different meanings in different contexts. While James clearly teaches justification by works, he isn't teaching forgiveness by works, but rather being just/righteous for the purpose of reward on the basis of our works, a distinction many modern interpreters still miss. The letter was written to forgiven believers, who already had put their faith in Christ (which was why they were scattered by persecution), to help them endure trials so they could be blessed when the Lord returns (which is why there isn't an emphasis on Jesus dying for their sins). The epistle has two bookends which make the purpose clear:

1:12 Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.

5:7 Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. 8 You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. 9...Behold, the Judge is standing at the door! 10 My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience. 11 Indeed we count them blessed who endure.

A difficulty modern readers (and even medieval ones) have is in reading James after all of the epistles directed toward Gentiles. Much of James' thinking is rooted in the OT (especially Proverbs), and the Gospels (especially Matthew, written to the Jews), so one needs to read it in that context to enter into James' thinking.

James 1 Those Who Endure Are Blessed
1:1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are in the Dispersion/scattered abroad: Greetings. 
2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 Let endurance have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. 5 But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach; and it will be given to him. 
6 But let him ask in faith, without any doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven by the wind and tossed. 7 For let that man not think that he will receive anything from the Lord. 8 He is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways
9 But let the brother in humble circumstances glory in his high position; 10 and the rich, in that he is made humble, because like the flower in the grass, he will pass away. 11 For the sun arises with the scorching wind, and withers the grass, and the flower in it falls, and the beauty of its appearance perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in his pursuits.

12 Blessed is the man who endures trials/temptation, for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord promised to those who love him.

13 Let no man say when he is tempted, "I am tempted by God," for God can’t be tempted by evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each one is tempted, when he is drawn away by his own lust, and enticed. 15 Then the lust, when it has conceived, bears/gives birth to sin; and the sin, when it is full grown, brings forth death
16 Don’t be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom can be no variation, nor turning shadow
18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures. 
19 So, then, my beloved brothers, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man doesn’t produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore, putting away all filthiness and overflowing of wickedness, receive with humility the implanted word, which is able to save your souls
22 But be doers of the word, and not only hearers, deluding your own selves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man looking at his natural face in a mirror; 24 for he sees himself, and goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. 25 But he who looks into the perfect law of freedom, and continues, not being a hearer who forgets, but a doer/performer of the work, this man will be blessed in/by what he does/performs. 26 If anyone among you thinks himself to be religious while he doesn’t bridle his tongue, but deceives his heart, this man’s religion is worthless. 27 Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

Observations: 1:1-8 James is considered by most to be the half-brother of Jesus, since James the brother of John was martyred very early according to Acts 12:2. He writes to the twelve tribes of Israel who were scattered abroad by the early persecution to encourage them to be faithful to the Lord Jesus the Messiah in the midst of their trials. Notice that the early believers are considered Jewish. In general terms, a trial is a temptation to quit following Jesus for eternal gain, and to settle for a temporal gain like power (security/significance), pleasure, or possessions, none of which endure. This would apply to loving one's life more than loyalty to the Lord, or loving the things of this world (like Demas) more than those of the next.
The correct perspective toward trials/temptations should be joy if one knows that the trying (refining – a term used for purifying metals) of their faith will produce endurance (the strength to remain under a burden). Letting endurance have (present imperative-command) its end goal will result in the sufferer having a perfected character, so that they lack nothing (at the return of Christ). Jesus had taught that fruit is a function of endurance (Lk 8:15) and in Luke 21:12-19 He warned of the persecutions His followers would endure, and then concluded that “by endurance you will possess/obtain your souls.” This meant they would obtain the exchange of their souls (put for their lives) in this world for life/dominion in the next, to which He had invited them in the call to discipleship (Lk 9:23-26).
If anyone lacked wisdom in their trials (in knowing how to chose the right objectives and the right means of obtaining them) which Proverbs said resulted in enduring riches, honor, and righteousness (8:18), all they had to do was ask. God wants people to know His will, so they can do it. The stipulation that the person ask in faith, without wavering, probably has an emphasis on faithfulness rather than confidence, since the antonym is being double-minded, and wavering between commitment to God and commitment to their temporal well-being. God is not going to withhold His wisdom for someone who isn't sure that He will give it, but will definitely withhold His guidance from someone who isn't committed to following it and Him wholeheartedly (Jn 7:17).
1:9-12 In persecution those who were among the haves, became the have-nots, as they frequently lost their wealth, status, and honor. James instructs the brother in humble/poor circumstances to rejoice in his high position in God's economy, and the rich to rejoice in their humbling. The reason is because riches don't endure, but God's blessing in return for suffering for His name's sake does (Mt 5:10-12).
Therefore, the one who is blessed (major theme of the Wisdom Literature as well as the rest of the OT, and Sermon on the Mount), is the one who successfully endures trials (like Job did -Js 5:11) for when he is approved (used of a proof coin struck in refined metal), he will receive the crown of life (rulership and dominion in the Kingdom) which the Lord promised to those who loyally love Him (Mt 19:28; Lk 22:30). This is the opening bookend of the epistle, answered by 5:11.  It is a book about getting rewarded, not forgiven. That's why it doesn't talk about the cross and the blood and all the other “evangelical” things Martin Luther was looking for, but it is the Good News/Gospel of the Kingdom that John, Jesus, Peter and Paul talked about all the time.
1:13-15 Having stated his thesis in the previous verse, James explores the source of the trials and temptations which believers must endure. God doesn't tempt us to sin; He wants us to be holy. The source of our temptations are our unsanctified and deadly desires/lusts. For years we've fed ourselves with spiritual junk food, and have no appetite for the real thing. But once we understand the sin process, we can flip it around and use it for holiness. We sin because we want to. We want to sin, because our value system tell us that a certain behavior will yield more benefit than another. So we indulge in sin, and refrain from holiness because we value the fruit of our wrong decisions. Each of us is tempted when enticed by our desires/lusts. Temptation isn't sin, but becomes so when we embrace it (literally the word is used for conception). Then sin is born, and when it is fully grown, it brings forth death (loss of life/dominion). When we succumb to temptation, it is sin (a missing the mark or standard). If we fail to abandon sin, but let it grow in our lives, it will kill us, depriving us of our abiding relationship with God in this life, lack of fruit, and lack of reward in the next.
The flip side is how really good (or is it bad?) sinners can become really good saints. If sin is drooling over then embracing and holding onto a desire for what is evil, then holiness is drooling over then embracing and holding on to a desire for what is good. If we set our mind on fleshly things, we will do them. If we set our minds on spiritual things we will do them. Being strong-willed is good if our will is set on things above (like Paul said in Romans 8, and Colossians 3, and Jesus did in Matthew 5:6; 6:21). So the key is to value the right things, which is a function of having our minds renewed with God's truth (see Romans 12:1-2; and the sermon on Sanctification: It Ain't Gonna Reign No More, on Truthbase.net).
1:16-21 Believers should not be deceived about the nature of the Christian life. God caused us to be born again by the word of truth, so we could live in the light. As the Father of light, He gives birth to light, so that we should be firstfruits of light. Therefore every child of God should put away dark behavior and receive/obey the word that saves our souls (as we walk as children of light). Although verse 19 does wonders for interpersonal relationships, that's not the primary application James had in mind. Believers should be swift to hear God's word, (James 1:21), slow to speak (James 1:13) and slow to grumble or complain about the circumstances God has allowed into their lives for their benefit, because complaining doesn't produce the righteousness God requires for reward. Remember righteousness is doing what is is right in His sight. They should eliminate all defiling and naughty (KJV) behavior (literally abundant or profitable evil/malice), and accept/receive the application of the implanted/engrafted word (the message of Christ and His Kingdom, that they heard) which is able (has power) to save their souls. It should be obvious to any reader of DTB that this is the third and final aspect of salvation which reverses the effects of the Fall, the glorification of believers (restoration to glory). See comments on the introduction to Matthew if you missed the distinctions between forgiveness/justification, holiness/sanctification and reward/glorification (James however uses justification to refer to the righteousness God blesses/rewards). This is salvation by works, addressed to believers.
1:22-25 Therefore, every believer should be a doer/performer of the word, and not just a hearer. Those who hear and don't do, deceive themselves into thinking that God doesn't require holiness. One who hears the word and doesn't incorporate it into their life through value and behavior change is like someone seeing themselves in the mirror, and then forgetting what they see. The usual application is that the word points out flaws that need to be fixed; if we ignore the flaws, we still have them. The believer who looks into the perfect law that gives freedom/liberty from sin (John 8:34-35), and continues in it (literally “abides alongside” it) is the one who will be blessed by (en) means of his/her performance (dative of means). This is not forgiveness by faith, but reward by works.
1:26-27 James adds two aspects of pure religion/worship which believers can be deceived about. If our “religion” doesn't affect our inner and outer life it's worthless (won't result in blessing/reward). James focuses on speech and other-centeredness. An unbridled tongue, which reflects an untamed heart, doesn't please God. Seeking to meet the needs of those for whom God particular cares (orphans and widows) is meritorious, if accompanied by holiness.
Application: If we want to be blessed, we need to endure the difficulties of following Christ, develop holiness and other-centeredness, as we learn and do God's will.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, I praise You for giving me new life in Christ; may I live a new way, according to Your light, and experience the freedom and blessing You desire for me. Thanks. Amen.

James 2 The Royal Law of Freedom
2:1 My brothers, don’t hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ of glory with partiality. 2 For if a man with a gold ring, in fine clothing, comes into your synagogue, and a poor man in filthy clothing also comes in; 3 and you pay special attention to him who wears the fine clothing, and say, "Sit here in a good place"; and you tell the poor man, "Stand there," or "Sit by my footstool"; 4 haven’t you shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my beloved brothers. Didn’t God choose those who are poor in this world to be rich in faith, and heirs of the Kingdom which he promised to those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Don’t the rich oppress you, and personally drag you before the courts? 7 Don’t they blaspheme the honorable name by which you are called? 
8 However, if you fulfill the royal/kingdom law, according to the Scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you do well. 9 But if you show partiality, you commit sin, being convicted by the law as transgressors
10 For whoever keeps the whole law, and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. 11 For he who said, "Do not commit adultery," also said, "Do not commit murder." Now if you do not commit adultery, but murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak, and so do, as men who are to be judged by a law of freedom/liberty. 13 For judgment is without mercy to him who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs/rejoices over judgment.

14 What profit is it, my brothers, if a man says he has faith, but has no works? Can faith save him? 15 And if a brother or sister is naked and in lack of daily food, 16 and one of you tells them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled"; and yet you didn’t give them the things the body needs, what profit/good is it? 17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead in itself. 18 Yes, a man will say, "You have faith, and I have works." Show me your faith without works, and I by my works will show you my faith. 19 You believe that God is one. You do well. The demons also believe, and shudder.
20 But do you want to know, vain man, that faith apart from works is dead? 21 Wasn’t Abraham our father justified by works, in that he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? 22 You see that faith worked with his works, and by works faith was perfected; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him as righteousness"; and he was called the friend of God. 24 You see then that by works, a man is justified, and not only by faith. 25 In the same way, wasn’t Rahab the prostitute also justified by works, in that she received the messengers, and sent them out another way? 26 For as the body apart from/without the spirit is dead, even so faith apart from/without works is dead.

Observations: 2:1-9 Believers, who possess faith in the Messiah of glory, should not show partiality to the rich at the expense of the poor, hoping to get benefit from the rich. In doing so, they will forfeit benefit from the Lord of glory for failing to love as He commanded. God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith (because they would have to trust Him more), and consequently to be heirs of the Kingdom which He promised to those who loyally love Him (not to those who just believe that He died for their sins). Those who show partiality despise those God will honor, and honor those who despise anyone not like them. Those who don't get worth and value from being pleasing to God, try to get it from being better than others, which makes for unpleasant relationships. Apparently the rich to whom James refers were also speaking against (blaspheming) Christ as well. If believers want to do well, the route they need to take is that of fulfilling the kingdom (or kingly, hence the meaning royal) law of loving their neighbor as themselves. They can only do this if they are not looking to others to meet their needs (the cause of most dysfunctional relationships). It is only as we experience the love of God in His meeting of our needs, that we are free to meet the needs of others. We don't experience the abiding love of God unless we are keeping His commandments (John 14:21; John 15). So the law of liberty (1:25 and 2:12), also known as the royal/kingdom law goes something like this:
God's love meets my needs (while I'm obeying) so I'm free to meet the needs of others, expecting nothing from them in return (but expecting Christ's reward). 
This is the law that God expects us to fulfill (2:8), and which we will be judged by according to verse 12. Those who show partiality in putting down those who are not in a position to help them, and honoring the dishonorable in hopes of temporal blessing commit sin, and are lawbreakers. The OT moral law (as opposed to the ritual, sacrificial and ceremonial law) revealed the righteousness God wanted from His people so He could bless them. That's why a good definition of righteousness is: being careful to do what is right in His sight. Only those who demonstrated that righteousness were blessed in the OT. The majority didn't, and weren't.
2:10-13 Whoever breaks one part of the law, has in fact broken the entire law (like breaking a window). People love to define righteousness as not doing what they don't like to do, so they are free to do what they want. This isn't God's standard. God's standard is the law of liberty, which He expects to govern our speech and actions. He promises that our speech and actions will be judged by the law of freedom (which is news to most Christians, who couldn't tell you what it is if their life depended upon it). Believers will be judged without mercy if they have shown no other-centered concern for the needs of others. But God will show mercy in judging those who have sought to live in love as Christ commanded. This is not judgment to determine whose sins are forgiven, and who goes into the lake of fire, for forgiveness is by faith in Christ's substitutionary atonement, which alone can satisfy God's justice and pay the penalty for our sin (see comments on Romans 3).
2:14-19 Having established that believers are going to be judged by the Kingdom law of liberty, which requires their speech and deeds to be done in loyal love, and that mercy is shown to those who have shown mercy, James then elaborates on the necessity of those works. He is not talking about the judgment of the lake of fire in which unbelievers pay the death penalty for their own sins, but instead for the judgment which determines their blessing of glory in the Kingdom (just re-read 2:1-13 for the context).
The very first Bible "study" I attended was in a dorm room at college, where this passage was being discussed. Some were arguing for faith, others for works. I didn't know the correct interpretation at the time since I wasn't clued into context, but I did know that neither camp made sense. That's been my experience in looking at most commentators (people who make comments) on difficult or disputed passages. Unless one determines the meaning of words from the context of the author's argument, there is more heat than light.
Can faith without works profit or save/glorify someone? The last use of “save” was in 1:21 of the obedience necessary for glorification and being blessed (1:25 by works). Just having faith gets one into heaven (rather than the lake of fire) but a unemployed faith doesn't profit one at the judgment seat of Christ (see comments on 2 Corinthians 5:10). Just saying be warmed and filled doesn't profit a brother or sister in need, unless there are works to benefit them. So too, faith without works is dead, giving no Kingdom life/dominion/glory to its confessor. Faith that God rewards (see Hebrews 11, particularly verse 6), must have works, for faith that pleases God must believe that He rewards those who diligently seek Him. One can demonstrate one's faith by good works (for which we were created in Christ Jesus – see comments on Ephesians 2:8-10), but it's hard to show one's faith without them. It does not follow that one doesn't have faith if there are no works (a major modern misunderstanding). It just means that the unemployed faith one has won't be laying up any treasure in heaven. A faith without works doesn't mean that a person isn't a born again child of God, it just means that they are not a very good child. It is through belief in Christ, not works that we are given forgiveness. It is through faithful works that we gain reward. The demons have belief in one God, but it doesn't do them any good in terms of their future (Jesus didn't die for demons). 2:20-24 James now turns to two OT examples of how faith with works resulted in blessing. Abraham was justified by works when He offered Isaac on the altar. Readers of the OT or Hebrews 11 will have noted that this is after he had believed God and had demonstrated Hall of Fame faith. In Genesis 12 Abraham first responded to God's revelation by faith. In Genesis 15:6 it is stated that he believed God's promise of blessing and it was credited to him as righteousness. Then, in Genesis 22:12 he demonstrated fear of God and obedience, and God responds with doubly blessing him (22:16-18). The issue is obedience and blessing, not initial faith. Now we need to understand James' use of justified. From the context it is clear that it has to do with reward and blessing, not in the justification/forgiveness by faith Paul usually talks about. Justified means to be just or righteous. It can be something demonstrated or declared, depending upon the context (see Thayer's Lexicon in the OLB or Biblos Strong's #1344). The condition of being just or righteous has many possible meanings. It can mean being just in one's dealings with others, or rightly related to God, or being careful to do what is right in His sight, etc. The fundamental lexical skill of Bible Study is to determine the specific nuance or meaning an author intended from the range of possible meanings found in a lexicon. The same applies to issues of grammar and syntax. The way one determines the meaning is to understand the context, and plug in each possible meaning for each variable until everything fits together according to the argument of the author.
The argument in James is pretty clearly about blessing and glorification of believers rather than forgiveness of pagans. Verse 22 spells out what meaning of justified James had in mind: faith being perfected, or brought to its fulfillment by bringing the worker to glory. Abraham had faith, which when combined with his works, realized the end goal of his faith, his blessing/glorification. An oft-repeated theme in the NT is that being forgiven is not the goal of life on this planet, but being brought into the glory of the Messiah in His kingdom is, the blessed hope of the believer (see comments on Eph 1; Heb 2:10; Titus 2:13; 1Peter 1, etc). As a result of Abraham's faithful works he demonstrated the righteousness God desired, and the Scripture of Genesis 15:6 was fulfilled. In addition, Abraham was called a friend of God.
This use of justified to refer to something other than forgiveness by faith is also used by Paul in Galatians. This excerpt from the introduction to the post on Galatians 1-3:
“The justification in chapter 2 is most likely not forgiveness (since they already had that) but a declaration of the righteousness they needed for blessing (inheritance and reward) in the future Age of the Messiah (kingdom). This is just like the OT requirement to do what is right in God's sight (righteousness) to receive the promised blessings. The just, (as in justified/forgiven), shall live (as in receive the blessings of the Messianic kingdom) by faith (as in continuing to believe that God will do what He said He'll do -Heb 11:6). The righteousness God requires extends beyond forgiveness, as the rest of the epistle demonstrates. People cannot read their preconceptions into chapter two and then ignore all the evidence in the rest of the epistle, and be right." 
And this from Galatians 2:
“Justification usually refers to being declared righteous in reference to the penalty of sin, also known as the forgiveness aspect of salvation (see introduction to Matthew for the different aspects of salvation). Here Paul is looking beyond forgiveness to the righteousness God requires for reward in the Kingdom. To receive this declaration the just person needs to live by faith. Living by faith is more than a one time belief in the substitutionary atonement, but an ongoing trust in the promises of God (see Faith Actuates God's Promises on Truthbase.net if you've never studied what the Scripture says faith is). To live is not just a deliverance from the lake of fire, but to exercise dominion/glory in the realm of God's promises (Dt 30:19). This is the only understanding that is consistent with all the facts. It's not about past forgiveness, nor present position, but future righteousness (knowing and doing what is right in God's sight.)" 
Despite what Martin Luther thought, Paul and James were saying the same thing; he just didn't understand what either of them was saying because of his preconceptions from Catholicism. A person is declared righteous by God as a result of faith in Christ's death on their behalf, and demonstrates the righteousness God rewards as a result of their faithful works, done in faith. 2:25-26 The example of Rahab, a non-Israelite, illustrates the same concept. Her reception of the spies who came to Jericho was based upon her hearing about and believing that the God of the Israelites was the one true God (Joshua 2:9-11) and her protection of them was (Joshua 2:12-14) the basis of her blessing. Thus, by her works she demonstrated her righteousness, which God rewarded, not only with protection, but with inclusion in the Messianic lineage. God always saves on the basis of faith. The content of the faith, and the exact nature of the salvation or deliverance is dependent upon understanding the context. Here James concludes with saying that as the body without the spirit (pneuma, breath) is dead, dominionless, and useless, so too faith without works is dead, dominionless, and useless. Remember the issue is reward and blessing not forgiveness.
Application: What works accompany your faith? What glory will accompany your works?
Prayer: God, thanks for forgiving and loving me, and meeting my needs, so I'm free to meet the needs of others in loving them; may I do so in a righteous manner that pleases You. Amen.

Digging Deeper

God in a nutshell: God judges believers on the basis of how they have lived in light and love. Those who do so will be blessed; those who don't will lose out on blessings (but are still forgiven).

Build-a-Jesus: Jesus gave the Kingdom Command: love your neighbor as yourself. He loves us and meets our needs so we're free to meet the needs of others.

Us in a nutshell: We are justified or declared righteous on the basis of our faith in Christ, but we are just and demonstrate our righteousness by our works done in faith that God blesses those who do what is pleasing in His sight. How we treat others is a good indication of our heart and values, and to whom we are looking for reward. If we focus on sin, we will wind up doing it; if we focus on righteousness, we will wind up getting it.

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