I. Trials, Temptation, and True Religion (James 1:1-27)
I. Trials, Temptation, and True Religion (1:1-27)
1:1 James, the half brother of Jesus, greets his readers as a servant of God and . . . Christ. He wants them to know he’s writing in submission to his Master’s agenda.
1:2 Consider it a great joy . . . whenever you experience various trials. Notice James said “whenever,” not “if.” But regardless of the form your trials take (physical, emotional, relational, financial), God wants you to be joyful because one of the primary means he uses to make us like Christ is by sending trouble our way. A trial is a divinely ordained difficulty that God causes or permits so that he may grow us and conform us into the image of his Son (see Rom 8:28-29). Christians in crisis are actually undergoing extreme makeovers. Hardships can transform us into something beautiful. That is cause for unspeakable joy—not because of the pain but because of the purpose behind it. In God’s providence, you have bad days on purpose. God uses trials to develop us spiritually.
1:3-4 The testing of your faith produces endurance (1:3). It’s one thing to tell your teacher that you know the material; it’s another thing to write the correct answers on a test. Similarly, you may claim to believe and follow God, but how do you respond when he tests your faith and pushes your buttons? God is working to produce endurance in you, so let endurance have its full effect. Don’t try to short-circuit a trial by illegitimately seeking to exit it. God is trying to make you spiritually mature and complete (1:4). The conflict you experience in the physical world is a means he uses to draw your attention to something in the spiritual world. God applies the iron of trials to the wrinkles of our lives so that Jesus Christ looks good wearing us.
1:5 What should you do when trouble begins? Pray. Ask God for wisdom, which is the ability to apply spiritual truth to life’s circumstances. He promises to give you wisdom to respond to your trials with maximum spiritual benefit.
1:6-8 How does God communicate this wisdom? Primarily through his Word and secondarily through godly counsel. So, after you’ve prayed, go to the Scriptures and see what God says about your problem. Then ask him for help from spiritually minded people who can teach you how best to apply biblical truth to it. You must, however, approach with faith not doubting—or “double-mindedness”(1:6, 8). You can’t go in two directions at once, responding to your problem from a divine perspective and a human one. The double-minded person should not expect to receive wisdom from God because he’s unstable, mixing divine answers with conflicting human answers (1:7-8).
1:9-11 The poor and the rich offer examples of responding to life with wisdom. The brother of humble circumstances is a fellow who doesn’t have much. James tells this person to boast in his exaltation (1:9)—that is, to glory in the fact that God is conforming him to Christ through his struggle. But the rich man is to boast in his humiliation (1:10). In other words, James reminds the rich man that nothing material he has will last. It will fade away like grass and flowers (1:11). There’s more to life than stuff. Don’t neglect the eternal.
1:12 Blessed is the one who endures trials, because when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which is kingdom victory in history as a result of passing a test. Everyone is looking for a blessing. Unfortunately, what they often mean by “blessing” is a car, a house, a mate, a job, or a raise. A true blessing, however, is a God-given capacity to experience, enjoy, and extend his goodness in life. Regardless of whether God’s blessings include external components, they are intended to bring about internal change so that our lives display his kingdom relationship and rule. Trials open the door to God’s blessings. So receive them with joy, pray for wisdom, and grow in Christlikeness.
1:13 Christians must distinguish between trials and temptations. A temptation is a solicitation to do evil. And while the same Greek word is used here to speak of both trial and temptation, they differ in terms of source, purpose, and outcome. In the same event, God and the devil can be at work—one to test you and the other to tempt you. But let’s be clear: God doesn’t tempt anyone. And any temptation hatched by Satan must pass through God’s fingers first even though God is not its source (see Job 1:6-12). Satan desires your downfall; God desires your development.
1:14-15 Temptation leads to sin when you yield to it. If you are a Christian, the devil cannot make you sin. But like an expert football coach, he studies your game films. He knows your distinctive weaknesses and tendencies. He knows how to appeal to your evil desire so that you’ll be drawn away to sin (1:14). And sin leads to death—separation (1:15). When we sin, we break fellowship with God.
1:16-18 Don’t be deceived (1:16). When faced with temptation, you must shift your focus. Focus, first, on the goodness of God: Every good and perfect gift is from him. Look to all the kindness God has shown you rather than at the temptation confronting you.
Second, focus on the faithfulness of God’s character: he’s the Father of lights, who does not change like shifting shadows (1:17). God never changes and always shines. Why does a portion of the earth become dark even though the sun always shines? Because earth keeps turning. God is consistently shining forth his goodness, truth, and grace. Turn to him, not away from him.
Third, focus on God’s Word: he gave us birth by the word of truth (1:18). For many, the Bible is like the queen of England. It’s held in high esteem but wields no power over them personally. What Scripture accomplished for your salvation, though, it can accomplish for your sanctification. Face temptation, like Jesus (Matt 4:1-11), with the spiritual power of the Word. After all, if the living Word needed the written Word to defeat the enemy of the Word, you certainly do.
Finally, focus on God’s plan: you are the firstfruits of his creatures (1:18). The Israelites gave God the firstfruits of their crops, flocks, and herds. They demonstrated how they valued him by giving him the first and best of what they owned. As God’s “firstfruits,” you are of highest value to him. You are a son or daughter of the living God. Don’t succumb to temptation and lower your dignity.
1:19-21 If you are saved and sanctified by the Word of God, how should you approach it? Be quick to listen to God’s thoughts on a matter, slow to speak your own point of view, and slow to anger (1:19) should you not like what God has to say in contrast to your own human perspective. God’s Word will confront you, but getting angry with him will not achieve his righteous plan for your life (1:20). So instead, put aside moral filth and evil by confessing and repenting of your sin and humbly receive the implanted word. Through it, after all, God has implanted in you a new nature. You have everything you need for spiritual growth. But you have to receive it, humbly placing yourself under its authority so that it can save you (1:21)—that is, deliver and transform you.
1:22-25 Without application, there can be no spiritual transformation. Therefore, we should be doers of the word and not hearers only (1:22). You can read the Bible and listen to sermons all day without it having effect. But to be a hearer and not a doer is like someone looking at his own face in a mirror only to go away, and immediately forget what he looks like (1:23-24). A mirror shows the reality. It exposes what you look like, but it can’t change you. It won’t comb your hair or brush your teeth. To look in a mirror is a call to action.
We must look intently into the perfect law of freedom. The Bible calls us to true freedom, which is submission to God’s perfect Word. To live this way requires going to the Word intently—not casually—in prayer and meditation. The one who submits to transformation by the Word and is a doer will be blessed (1:25).
1:26-27 James is an in-your-face apostle. He doesn’t want to know the words you heard on Sunday unless they resulted in action on Monday. If anyone thinks he is religious, his Christianity must be practical (1:26). Vertical worship must have horizontal expression. Your faith must be seen in your conversation, your compassion, and your conduct.
First, your conversation ought to demonstrate mastery of your tongue (1:26). Talk less and bless more. Second, if your religion is to be pure and undefiled, it must express itself in compassion. Look after orphans and widows. Provide for those who can do nothing for you in return because that’s what your heavenly Father did for you. Third, practice an in-the-world-but-not-of-the-world religion (see John 17:15-16)—that is, in your conduct, keep yourself unstained (1:27). Don’t let the world rub off on you. Instead, rub off on the world and leave behind a trace of grace.