The book of James has been accepted as a part of the
canonical literature since the earliest days of the church. There has been some
doubt, however, over precisely which James wrote this book. The issue turns
upon the perpetual virginity of Mary. If you believe in that, then you hold
that this was written by James son of Alphaeus. All the rest of us believe it
was written by James, the brother of Jesus.
The purpose of the book is quite clear: it is the wisdom
literature of the New Testament. It occupies a place parallel to that of the
book of Proverbs in the Old Testament. Indeed, the letter was not written for
the church in general but for the Jewish people who had been dispersed from
Jerusalem. The best efforts of history indicate that this was written just
before the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70. It is a book to be taken in
a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes who
are dispersed abroad: Greetings. Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you
encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces
endurance. And let endurance have its
perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
(James 1:1-4 NASB)
To Test Your Faith
Understanding this section will require us to know the
difference between the trial and temptation. Let's take the trials first:
There are physical trials – the common ordinary suffering of the
Christian. It's a time when we ask, "why me, God?"
Sometimes these trials actually occurred to others but we must
share them. If you've ever had an invalid in the house, you know what I mean.
You ask, "why her, God?"
It does occasionally happen that these trials come to the church
and we ask, "why us, God?"
Trials in life rarely bounce off of us. We are going to
react to them; the question is how? It seems strange the James would tell us to
consider these as all joy. How could he possibly say such a thing?
Please remember that our reaction is not the emotional one, but
the logical one. This is something that you purpose to do. If your reaction is
entirely emotional, and continues to be that way, then you do not have your
emotions under control.
How do we do that? The old saints would've answered with one
word: contemplation. We are to think about our situation, and analyze it in the
light of the Scriptures. Indeed, Aquinas tells us that the contemplation of the
truth is one of the highest joys of the human mind. Evidently the modern
Christian has some way to go to get to this point.
So we need a method. That method begins with prayer, and ends
with accepting the Lord's consolation. Have you ever considered that your
trials drive you closer to God? And that that just might be a good thing?
The result of these trials is described in this translation
as endurance. It is a word which is almost untranslatable; patience, fortitude,
power, toughness — these are all synonyms for a word that means patience. It is
an active patience. Perhaps it is best described by its results:
Maturity comes first. In our day we think of maturity as
something to be despised; it is much preferable to be young. But those of us
who have reached a certain state of antiquity know that maturity brings its own
advantages. We have been there and done that, and experience helps.
The second aspect is completeness. Remember the whole armor of
God? Our weaknesses are gradually plated over with God's armor.
There is also an aspect of perfection here. To say that something
is perfect is to imply that it has a purpose. Thus, we making clue that God is
perfect in us for a purpose known to him, at least. Often enough, however, God
doesn't share this knowledge with the person being perfected.
any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and
without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without
any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and
tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive
anything from the Lord, being a
double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
(James 1:5-8 NASB)
How God Gives
You know much about the character of a person if you know
how they give. It really doesn't matter what amount they're giving, it's the
style. Are they a skinflint?
God gives generously. Indeed, he is the model of the cheerful
giver that he loves so much. The arch-example of this is the cross.
More than that, he gives to all. This is not something for the
selected few, or those who are in on the mystic secret.
Perhaps the most important characteristic of God's giving is that
he does it without finding fault. If you've ever had a gift delivered with a
lecture, you know why that's a blessing.
It might seem strange that God requires faith before he
gives wisdom. But there is a very good and specific reason for this: first of
all, he wants your commitment. This is not a man at a convention giving out
free samples. He wants you to be committed to him; more than that, to use his
wisdom you will absolutely require faith.
How is that? Remember, God's wisdom is not like the wisdom
of the world. For example, he just told you to react to trials and suffering
with joy. Does that sound something like the advice you would get from Oprah
Winfrey? It's not the world's vision, it's God's vision that must be
implemented. And you're going to need faith to implement it.
Here's an example of what we are talking about:
brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; and the rich
man is to glory in his humiliation,
because like flowering grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with a
scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty
of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his
pursuits will fade away. Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once
he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.
(James 1:9-12 NASB)
The poor get to boast in their poverty? Let's look at it
this way: on a football team, which players get hit the hardest? The ones on
the field, or the ones on the bench? The answer is obvious. It is the way of
this world that the rich have fewer trials and therefore lesser reward. They
also have the problem of money; the temptation is to rely on money — something
the poor really don't have the chance to do. Moreover, if you are poor it's
easy to consider the lilies of the field; if you are rich, the tendency is to
hire a gardener to weed them out.
one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God"; for God
cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one
is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust
has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings
forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good thing given
and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights,
with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.
(James 1:13-17 NASB)
This section goes a little easier if you have some
definitions of some of the Greek translations.
The word for "tempted" means exactly that. It is a
different word from the word used for trials.
The phrase that God cannot be tempted has a particular tense in
the Greek. It implies that it is logically impossible for God to be tempted;
the thing simply doesn't fit reality. It does not mean that it is forbidden,
The phrase, "no variation" is an astronomical term
involving what we now called parallax. In the Greek's understanding of
astronomy it would mean that God was like a fixed star.
The Nature of Temptation
Perhaps this is best understood as a process:
It starts with our own lust. We need to understand that the
problem begins with in us. It is not something that God applies from the
outside. If we do not have the lust, we do not have the sin. Unfortunately,
lusts of all types are in abundant supply in the human being.
The problem is not in the existence of the lust itself. It is in
the giving in. To put it more directly, the problem is not temptation but what
you do about it.
The result of this is death, spiritually.
We can best understand the fact that God does not tempt
anyone by understanding how we tempt others. When we tempt others, we look
within ourselves for the kinds of things that tempt us. It's rather simple
really; we are comfort will doing the temptation with the lust that we
understand. In short, we seek a common weak spot. God has no weak spots.
The gifts that God gives us reflect his eternal character.
They are intrinsically good. It is not possible for God to give
us something which is evil. It is possible for him to permitted to come to us.
They are perfect — this meaning in the sense of being complete
and fitted for a purpose. This of course implies that God has a purpose for the
They are eternally the same; God is eternal and does not change.
So if he gave such gifts to the early church he will give the same to us.
So then, Christian, I commend to you the idea that you
should rejoice in your trials. It means you're on the football field and not on
the bench. But also that you should seek wisdom, asking God for it, so that at
the very least you'll know the difference between the trial and the temptation.
Then perhaps you can learn to accept the trial and avoid the temptation.