Verse 5 has to be one of the most beautiful and encouraging promises in all of Scripture. God gives wisdom generously, abundantly, liberally. He pours it out to all without discrimination, without question, and without hesitation. This is the God of the universe saying, "I will impart My wisdom to you." But it's not automatic. You must ask for it. And God doesn't give us the easy answer. When we are in a trial, we just want our circumstances fixed. But God says, "Draw near to Me, and ask Me to help you understand why this is happening and to give you perspective on what you are going through and to walk alongside you as the One who possesses all knowledge, eternal perspective, and perfect experience."
My father was the wisest man I have ever known. He died unexpectedly in 2004, and I would give anything to have one more conversation with him. I'm confident that conversation would be long because I've got a lot to learn in life. I would love to pepper him with questions, then just sit back and listen. But I have something infinitely better: the sovereign King of creation has made His wisdom available to me and to all followers of Christ. So when you go through trials, ask God to give you wisdom and trust Him to give it to you. James tells us not to doubt (v. 6), and this holds true even when life is not easy or doesn't make sense. Believe that God is wise and that He is with you.
Consider an example from your personal experience with other people. If you share life with someone and you see the wise decisions they make as they go through hard times, then you will naturally grow to trust that person the next time a trial comes. This is God's design in our 9relationship with Him, and He is right every time, so the more we walk through trials with Him, the more we will learn to trust in Him.
We learn to rely on His resources. Verses 9-11 introduce the theme of riches and poverty that we see throughout James. But why, in the middle of this section on trials, does James start talking about poverty and riches? Many of James's readers were likely poor, but some were rich and were trusting in their wealth. James reminds us in these verses that trials have a remarkable leveling effect. If you are poor, you should boast in the fact that your circumstances are actually leading you to trust in God; and in the absence of physical resources, you are driven to boast in your (paradoxically) rich status as a child of God. On the other hand, if you are rich, be careful. Trials will remind you that money can't solve your problems, and all of the stuff you fill your life with can't cover up your hurts. One day all that stuff is going to be burned in the fire, and you're going to have nothing left. Will your life be built on those physical resources or on the spiritual resources only God can provide?
We learn to live for His reward. James closes this section in verse 12 by saying the man who endures trials is "blessed," which is just one of many examples in the book of James where he deliberately alludes to the Sermon on the Mount. The key to understanding this whole book is realizing that James is leaning heavily on Jesus' teachings in the Sermon on the Mount. When James talks about the "crown of life" that the man who endures will receive, there are two ways to misunderstand this image. First, don't picture some "gem-studded headpiece worn by kings or queens": most original readers of this letter would have heard this word and immediately thought about the wreath that would be put on an athlete's head at the end of a race he won (Moo, James, 70). The picture here is that of running through the trials of this life victoriously to receive this crown. Second, the crown of life should not simply be thought of as a physical crown with great splendor. No, the crown is actually a symbol of receiving the glorious reward of eternal life. At the end of these trials, God meets us with life, eternal life. So consider it joy because trials remind you that you are living for a reward to come. Paul puts it this way in 2 Corinthians 4:17: "For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory."
The first truth we've seen is that God is sovereign in our trials; consequently, our trials can be a joy. But James wants to protect us against 10something here, which he explains in the second major truth in this passage. God, in His sovereignty, will test the faith of His people, and He will do it for our good. This truth can be found all over Scripture (see, for example, Rom 8:28; Heb 12:5-6). But we have to be careful not to take the next step in our minds and begin to assume that God tempts us to turn from Him. This is such a slippery slope.
Every trial brings temptation with it. When we face financial difficulty, we are tempted to distrust God's provision. When someone dear to us dies, we are tempted to question God's love. When we experience unjust suffering, we are tempted to impugn God's justice. But know this: God may test us, but according to verse 13, He does not and cannot and will not tempt us. We are responsible in temptations.
The origin of sin. Understanding who is responsible in temptation requires understanding the origin of sin. James says clearly in verse 13 that God is perfectly sinless. Everything in Him resists sin; evil is inherently foreign to Him. He is aware of it, but He is untainted by it. In no way can God be blamed for temptation and sin. Who is responsible then?
To answer that question, James holds up the mirror and says, "But each person is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own evil desires" (v. 14). God is perfectly sinless, but we are utterly sinful. After telling us God does not tempt us to sin, we might expect James to say Satan drags us away and entices us, but he doesn't. Now, that doesn't mean Satan isn't involved in the temptations of this world; this will become clear later in this book (4:7). However, the responsibility for temptation and sin lies squarely with us, for our sinful desires within lead us to give in to temptation. We have no one else to blame for our sin.
May God help us understand this in a world where there are efforts at every turn to absolve us from our responsibility for sin. We want to put the fault on others or blame our upbringing, our friends, our family, our government, our condition, or anything else we can think of. This doesn't mean different factors don't affect us all in different ways, but the teaching of Scripture is clear: the fault for my sin lies with me. There is a problem at the core of who you are and who I am. In the words of Paul in Romans 7:18, "For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh."
The anatomy of sin. Having looked at the origin of sin, we also need to consider the anatomy of sin. Sin does not just happen out of the blue. 11There is a process behind it, and we might think about this in the following four steps:
Brother or sister in Christ, whatever sin you are flirting with, whatever deception you are buying or desires you are fulfilling, run away from them. They will kill you. And this is in us!
So, what do we do during trials and temptations, the very time when we are so prone to fix our eyes on our circumstances that we miss what God has in store? What do we do in the midst of temptations, when we are so prone to be dragged away and enticed by the desires that are at the core of our lives? We remember that God is faithful for our salvation. With God, James tells us in 1:17, "there is no variation or shadow cast by turning." In your trials or temptations, don't believe the lies. Remember that God is good, so very good. And He wants that which is good for you. So trust Him in your trials, and turn to Him in your temptations. He is the 12source of everything good (v. 17). Simply consider these three different aspects of God's goodness.
His goodness is unchanging. God is perpetually, constantly, consistently good. He never gets in a bad mood. He never changes for the worse, and He never changes for the better because He is already perfectly and ultimately and wonderfully good in every way, and you can't get any better than God. If He could change for the better, that would mean He wasn't ultimately good in the first place, but He is.
His goodness is undeserved. Verse 18 says that God chose to give us birth through the "message of truth." We're going to see a lot about works in James, but the foundation is all about grace. God has given us new life based not on our works but on His grace. He chose to give us birth! He chose to take His Word and write it on our hearts, hearts that were sinful to the core. This is the gospel, the message of Christianity—anything good in you is because of God's undeserved goodness toward you! God is the source of every good thing in us. Were it not for Him, everything in us would be bad. We need His undeserved goodness to change us from the inside out. This is what faith relies on at every level.
His goodness is unending. We are the "firstfruits of His creatures" (v. 18). The picture of firstfruits carries the idea of a foretaste of that which is to come. What God has done in our lives to change our hearts by His goodness is only a preview of the day to come when He will make all things new in all creation. And the work He has done in our new birth will one day lead to a new heaven and a new earth where there will be no more trials and no more temptations.
In the meantime, take heart, Christian. He has saved us from our sin. And if He has saved us from our sin, then we can know beyond the shadow of a doubt that He will see us through our sorrow. Contemplate the truth of this gospel, of a God who conquers sin and suffering through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ so that today you and I can consider trials pure joy and face temptations with steadfast confidence.
Reflect and Discuss