Updated: Mar 26, 2020
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The Book of James
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The Epistle of James is about the practical and true actions of our faith being proven by the doing rather than the hearing or speaking. In other words, not paying lip service to our faith or our God, but do service! Walking the Talk! James condemns as counterfeit faith that which would substitute theory for practice and focuses on genuineness of our faith. OK…
In this respect James echoes clearly the ethical teaching of Jesus, especially from the Sermon on the Mount found in the Gospel of Matthew 7:21: "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven". Do Service! Hopefully this background information is a foundation that can help you to understand James! Let’s start at the beginning!
James 1:1 NLT This letter is from James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. I am writing to the "twelve tribes"—Jewish believers scattered abroad. Greetings! The conventional letter of 2000 years ago started with the writer’s and recipient’s names. Usually the writers gave a little more to identify themselves. As James did not ID himself as the leader of the Jerusalem church or that he was Jesus’ brother, it is obvious he was well known.
He was writing to the 12 tribes of Israel since the church at this time was predominantly Jewish. 10 of the 12 tribes had been dispersed in the Assyrian conquest of 722BC and the Babylonian conquest in 597BC. Tradition held that the 10 tribes would be return only at the end of the age.
The Greek word for “Greetings” that James uses in this passage is a cheerful but impersonal hello. This is not a personal letter, as it is addressed is to all his kindred Jewish Christians, many who had been uprooted from their homes and faced persecution. Onto verses 2 to 4;
James 1:2-4 NLT Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.
Did you catch that James says when, as versus if. We are going to have trials. The Amplified Bible version states we are going to be enveloped in and encounter all sorts of trials and fall into various temptations. That is a part of life. There is no getting around it, and God doesn’t take bribes.
James is writing to believers here, so don’t… even for a moment think that because we are in a close relationship with the sovereign King of the universe, that we are exempt from problems! Matthew 5:45 tells us the rain falls on the evil and the good, the just and the unjust. Between the world, our own flesh and Satan, our lives are often a battleground.
When James mentions joy, he is not suggesting some kind of weird denial in which we ignore the pain of the hurts and losses in life: nor is he suggesting we take a masochistic and perverse joy in sickness, death, losing our employment, being persecuted, or having a spat with our spouse.
As well, he is not encouraging a phony front, putting that happy smile on our face all the while hoping that the world does not know that our marriage is falling apart, that one of our kids is in prison, that debt collectors are constantly calling and our life feels as if it is falling apart.
By the way, Galatians 6 says we are to share those burdens, not hide them! This means we get to stay authenticate and transparent. At times each of us are hurt or devastated either emotionally or physically, but we can be spiritually rock-solid.
The Greek word James uses for joy means a calm delight and cheerfulness. James is saying we can take comfort in knowing that the end results will ultimately bring us into a better life, when we are walking with God! Here’s James formula for spiritual formation: Trials => Testing => Perseverance => Maturity
We can be joyful in the midst of our trials when we lean on God and trust that His plan is for us to grow Christ-Like! That’s spiritual formation! As believers our main focus is on spiritual maturity. Becoming Christ-like is our hole-in-one, our home run, our touchdown, our 10 point buck… God’s ultimate goal for us!
So, endure and persevere the trials even when the opposing team is chasing you! God is with you! Endurance and perseverance was highly valued in Jewish wisdom and tradition, especially in dealing with trials. In his Epistles, the Apostle Paul used these same terms and concepts often.
What does James mean by “When our faith is tested”? The Greek word used for testing is actually our English word for “trying”… so our faith is being tried! Trying times seem to be our norm, and it helps us to try out our faith!
Before I received a grade for any of my Bible classes, I had to take a test. My professors would give us tests to make sure we knew our stuff, and that we could use it successfully and effectively. All the training in the world is meaningless if it cannot be used.
Testing helps us to become secure and confident in what we have been given! Here’s a great saying: “God tests to bring out our best, Satan tempts to bring out our worst!”
Years ago, I spent hours listening to and learning the lead guitar part for a Journey song called, “The Wheel in the Sky”. I was rather young and had just really starting soloing. In order to learn the part, I had to keep picking up the needle on the record player and putting it back… up and down, up and down until I got it down pat. This took hours.
However, the first time I played it with the band, I fell apart and botched it. The testing under stress showed me what I did not know, and what I needed to practice. By the time the next rehearsal rolled around, I was able to perform it much better. Two more times in rehearsal brought my solo to maturity!
God allows and helps us to mature spiritually through our trials! He wants us to be more like Him! Sorry, reading, praying, listening to sermons, or taking classes just won’t suffice! Trials prep us for the true test! Having the wisdom to understand what trials do for us and in us helps us face our trials with a positive and joyful attitude is covered in: James 1:5-8 NLT If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.
How should we handle things when we are going through God-ordained difficulties? Pray! Has it really come to that? I say on way too many occasions that prayer is the first thing we need to do, but the last thing of which we think! James says to pray, or ask God for wisdom.
I’ve heard that knowledge is the ability to take things apart, while wisdom is the ability to put them together. Wisdom is the right use of knowledge. All of us know people who are educated fools: they have brilliant academic records, but the simplest decisions in life are beyond them.
One of my cousins had a full ride scholarship to MIT, was a highly gifted professor at a prestigious east coast College, was on Secretary of State Robert McNamara’s think-tank, and he worked with the Israeli government and intelligence agencies. But he couldn’t carry on a conversation with another human being to save a life… and he was pretty much was devoid and nil of common sense. His Brainpower without wisdom was almost useless in life.
Why ask for wisdom instead of strength, grace, or even deliverance from the trials? Because we need wisdom so as to not waste the opportunities for spiritual maturity! Wisdom helps us to appreciate with all joy the circumstances that allow for growth and how not to waste them!
Consider kids on a long trip to Disneyland; Are we there yet? How much longer? They are too immature to understand the journey. Immature people are…impatient, they want things their way… they act first and pray second! –– they want the blessings of maturity without walking the hard road of growth. Did you know that the Greek word for wisdom is… Sophia? It means that you got the smarts, both worldly and spiritually. God will supply the wisdom you need to get through the worldly and spiritual trials… He will bestow, commit, deliver, grant, give, or otherwise implant it! Whatever word you would like to use, God is still the source!
According to one commentary, asking for wisdom in faith means committing oneself to obey and to do what God reveals! Understand this! Get this! Act on this! When you ask for wisdom in faith it means you will do what God says to do, with no wavering or double mindedness!
James goes on to use the image and realities of being driven on a stormy sea. This was common in Jewish and Greek literature as well as in the Bible. James compares the doubting believer to the waves of the sea, up one minute and down the next.
The NIV states it this way… That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.
Let’s describe the experience of the double-minded, unstable person. Faith says, "Yes!" but unbelief says, "No!" Trust and assurance says "Yes!" one minute but doubt turns it to a “No!" the next. It was doubt that made Peter sink in the waves as he was walking to Jesus in Matthew 14.
Commentaries tell us that Jewish sages abhorred and condemned the hypocrisy of saying one thing and living another, of speaking or living inconsistently, of living a lie… of being double-minded. James states the we can’t be doubled-minded if we are to receive God’s provision. The prerequisite to receive God's wisdom in trials is for the believer to ask in faith and assurance that God will, without a doubt, respond. The Greek word used here for "doubt," suggests vacillating, fickle, or… wavering!
James is saying do not come to God vacillating like a beach ball on a wave of the sea, blown horizontally and tossed vertically, pushed forward and sucked back. James is saying do not come to God wishy-washy, indecisive, double-minded, or like an unstable, staggering drunk.
Don’t waver between self-reliance and God-Reliance! Have the confidence to accept and use what God is offering. We are to depend and lean on God, not ourselves!
Throughout these passages, James assumes that we understand that spiritual maturity is the primary responsibility and goal for all Christians to obtain. To repeat, spiritual maturity or formation is being Christ-like. And that is the definition of Christian: Christ Like!
If our purpose and the goal is to become mature in Christ, that aspiration is too precious to let anything stand in its way. This being the case, is why we can take joy in the opportunities to move towards that goal through our trials!
Again, James is not talking of faking the joy here, being in denial of the pain and hurt that is occurring, or psyching ourselves up! He is talking of taking joy in knowing and looking forward to the future good things, and the blessings that come of enduring the trials! There are no short cuts, and pain is a prime motivator to growth!
Praying, and asking for prayer for delivery and help from the pains of a trial is very appropriate, and most normal, but James’ intention is not to be a whiny complainin’ baby during it. And the IVP Commentary talks of the fact that continuing in obedience to the Lord's commands equates to perseverance, but self-pity should not be in the equation. A "poor me!" attitude does not equal any type of joy.
So, is James a straw book as Martin Luther thought? No way! James is in perfect alignment and harmony with all of scripture here. Luther himself retracted the statement, and also wrote: “Faith is a living, restless thing. It cannot be inoperative. We are not saved by works; but if there be no works, there must be something amiss with faith'.
The Apostle Paul, whom we could call the focuser on faith agrees with James and says in Romans 5:3-5 NLT We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.
The NIV version clarifies this a bit by substituting the word sufferings for problems and trials, and perseverance for endurance.
And the Apostle Peter in 1 Peter 1:6-8 NIV says: In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire — may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
James is in perfect alignment with Peter and Paul, Apostles that provide the foundations of our faith! I do not believe you can have greater confirmation than that! So, James is not a legalistic law-pusher, but is helping others to become Christ-like by grasping God’s hand!
Let’s sum up and look at what James taught us about the protective armaments to use in trials and tribulations are:
1. James 1:2-4 A joyful attitude knowing that the end result will be greater Christ-likeness. 2. James 1:5 Asking for wisdom to help us endure the trial, and achieve greater spiritual
maturity. 3. James 1:6 Not letting self-doubt rob you of God’s blessings, but to have the
confidence to accept what God is offering!
4. James 1-8: A surrendered will and a heart that wants to believe!
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Blessings to you all!