Introduction to James
This epistle or letter was written around 49 A.D. making it one of the earliest NT writings, just 16 years after the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Who is James? He is not the same James who was the brother of John, one of Jesus’ disciples. This James, like Judas a few months before, was Jesus’ half-brother. He resisted Christ all his life. But at some point near the end of Jesus’ life, he believed. We’re told Jesus revealed Himself to James after the resurrection. And James, Jesus’ half-brother, became the leader of the first church, the Church of Jerusalem.
James’ letter is Wisdom Literature. It’s not the gospel. It’s more like Proverbs. James doesn’t tell sinners how to live forever; he tells believers how to live wisely.
In those first decades, it was super dangerous to align with Jesus. Yet the church was growing. An official named Saul spearheaded a violent campaign against Christians. Many fled for their lives. They lived as aliens among godless cultures. They were aliens, minorities, unpopular. They were James original audience.
James 1:1 James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes [to born again Christians from the twelve tribes of Israel] who are dispersed abroad: Greetings.
Of all the ways James could have identified himself, he identified as a slave, a bond-servant of God and Christ. To identify as a slave of Christ declares that we’re no longer slaves to sin. For Jesus Christ redeemed us from sin’s authority with His own blood. By His cross, His Spirit, Jesus set us free. Yet as a bond-servant we freely bind ourselves to serve our true Lord. Not Govt. Not culture…
James, a servant of God and of our Lord Jesus Christ, to those dispersed in a culture which doesn’t know Jesus, is cynical of Christianity, and skeptical of God. Greetings.
As he launches into the meat of his letter, remember this is wisdom literature. And wisdom literature answers questions like: How do we avoid wasting our life? What are the pitfalls we should watch for? How do we overcome sin and temptation? How do we approach life’s tough challenges? This all starts w/his opening sentence,
James 1:2 Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials!
James is a realist. He’s not saying to paint a smile on our face, feign happiness, just grin and bear it. He is reminding us that there is hope, there is a reason for joy even in the worst case scenarios that we face. For God uses these for a good outcome,
James 1:2 Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.
Don’t face your illness without knowing this. Don’t face your unemployment, your spouse’s infidelity, your friend’s betrayal, your divorce, or the reports of the end of the world—don’t face such trials as people who don’t know God might face these.
If all you consider is the problem, it’s going to appear huge and scary. You’re going to feel that it’s something you have to avoid at all costs. If all you feel is the hurt or fear or anger that this trial or circumstance raises, you’re not going to act wisely.
So KNOW this! Keep this in your mind. KNOW that the Lord who loves you and is committed to conform you into the image of His Son intends to use every otherwise frightening and difficult situation to form something beautiful in you.
KNOW that every hardship is a test. Every hardship gives you the opportunity to exercise your trust, to turn to God and rely on Christ and face this crisis wisely. If you face this wisely, God can use this trial to form a faith in Jesus that can face anything.
But tests are hard, and hard times are miserable. But James tells us, when we face these hard tests wisely with Christ, He’ll uses these to prevent greater misery later.
So a trial is like an extreme fitness trainer who takes a weak, rarely-used faith, and puts it through an intense workout so that we can do things we couldn’t do before, face things we’d otherwise run away from, and endure things that would’ve crushed us before. A long trial can reshape a weak faith into a faith that endures…
James 1:4 And let endurance have its perfect result, [i.e., endure in your endurance] so that you may be perfect and complete [the complete package, whole], lacking in nothing.
Let endurance do its job. James makes it seem like there isn’t a quick fix in this. Endure. Persevere. These tests are often long and grueling. Yet James wisely encourages us to trust Jesus through those cruddy situations that last too long…
It’s not just, “Lord help me get through this bad hair day.”
But, “Lord help me to draw on you and endure this long-term illness that isn’t improving, this bitter loneliness that has no end in sight, this rocky marriage that isn’t getting better, this job situation or lack of a job situation that seems hopeless.
Wisdom doesn’t focus on the problem or face it alone! Wisdom brings God into this. Wisdom knows we won’t endure any unnecessary pain without Christ leading us,
Hebrews 12:1 Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
God uses our trials to bring us close to Jesus. So the wise way to face a trial is by drawing near to the Lord in it, fixing our eyes on Jesus so that we can endure life’s storms, suffering, and loss, without our faith faltering, doubting or blaming God. Enduring trials is among God’s best means to produce a faith that glorifies God…
James 5:10 As an example, brothers, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord's dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful.
We can choose to see Christ and know that God has a purpose in this trial, it’s not a meaningless crisis. God offers to build into me something beautiful through this. This is wisdom. Or I can focus on the problem. Be hurt. Angry. Frightened…
Job’s wife viewed the horrific tragedy that struck her husband and her family by concluding that for God allowing this, He is not good or loving or worth worshiping. And she foolishly counseled her ailing husband, “Curse God and die!” Yet Job responded to the same hardship glorifying God. In no way happy that it happened; he was devastated. But He remembered God and relied on Him. He spoke wisely.
Job 1:21 "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD." 22 Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God.
So tests pressure us, squeeze us. Like a quarterback under pressure, we can make bad decisions, unforced errors. The more painful, the more that’s at stake, or the more emotional our crisis, the harder it is to make wise decisions in them. James is wisdom literature. So what do we need to face our trials well, to endure without losing faith, blaming God, walking away from the church or blowing up our family?
We need wisdom. Wisdom to face this crisis. Wisdom to live well in this crisis.
But where does wisdom come from?
James 1:5 But if 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.
When we don’t know how to handle life’s difficulties, James tells us to turn to God and ask for the wisdom to do the right thing. Sometimes, we are in crisis mode, we hurt, we’re upset, we’re angry or scared and we’re so fired up, we don’t even pray.
Or if we are in a royal jam, we just pray for God to get us out of it. “Make this go away! Let things be back to normal.”
But the context for needing wisdom is trials, enduring in Christ and growing through trials. Rather than ask God to take this away, we’re to ask for wisdom so that the trial can achieve God’s intended purpose.
Which is for our best! To keep us from future misery. To strengthen our hope in X.
Notice what James says about God’s character that encourages us to ask our LORD for wisdom? First, God is a generous giver. He gives to all generously. Second, Abba is a gracious giver; He gives without reproach. Without any hint of, “I gave you a brain for a reason.” “You got yourself into this mess, you figure a way out.”
No we are assured of God’s loving nature. God gives generously and graciously.
How should we ask?
James 1:6 But you 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. 7 For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, 8 being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
James assures us God will provide a way for us to endure this crisis.
But doubt says, “I don’t trust what God wants me to do. I trust my way. I’ll listen to her advice. I think if I do this, it would work better, or if I just leave it’ll be easier…”
And we shouldn’t expect God to give us wisdom, if we aren’t willing to take His hand and follow Him. See, wisdom seeks the Lord and says, “However hard it is, I want to follow You! Help me.” To such, our LORD gives wisdom and aid. Ask Him. Trust Him.
Okay, so you are in a trial. A crisis. You’ve come to an end of yourself. You don’t know what else to do. It’s bigger than us. And we’ve turned to the Lord. You trust Him in this. You’ve asked Him for wisdom. NOW WHAT?
Does our IQ immediately increase? No. Do we just suddenly know something we never knew? Maybe.
I Corinthians 2:12 We have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things freely given to us by God.
God’s Holy Spirit lives in us. Our LORD wants to live His life through us. Wants to be paid attention to, listened to, and submitted to. He’s the Spirit of wisdom and truth.
So after we pray, and He might just plant the next step in our mind, our conscience right away or at some point after we pray. Trust Him. Continue to ask. It may be that He softens our heart, gives us hope, brings someone into our lives to help. He may not reveal anything to us until we commit to do it, ‘til the moment we need it.
He may reveal His wisdom to face this trial as read God’s Word or as we ruminate on it. Perhaps the first step after praying to God and asking for wisdom is to look into His Word. This is what wisdom literature, NT and OT teaches us,
Proverbs 2:1 My son, receive my words and treasure my commandments within you… 6 For the LORD gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.
Our LORD gives wisdom for living. From His mouth. From His Word. So read. Listen. Pray and talk to God. Trust that He has what you need, and He’s generous to share,
Proverbs 4:5 Acquire wisdom! Acquire understanding! Do not forget nor turn away from the words of my mouth.
He can reveal godly wisdom to us as we seek it from the church, Christian friends. Bible believing, godly believers are another source of godly wisdom,
Romans 15:14 I Myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another.
God has the wisdom we need to face trials. He wants us to ask Him for it; come to me. A trial can often turn us from God, He wants it to bring us closer to Him that we may live wisely and well through it. Trust Him more through it. Be more like Him.
James 1:2 Consider it all joy when you encounter various long, hard trials that pressure your faith and challenge your commitment to follow Christ, knowing that the proving of your faith produces endurance so that you can be whole, complete.
James 1:12 Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial [who draws close to Jesus and whose life follows Jesus when our faith is tested via a long trial]; for once he has been approved [proven], he will receive the crown of life!
He’s not saying IF you persevere and pass the test you’ll be able to have eternal life. The crown of life is a future, kingdom, eternal reward for enduring faith and wise living in Christ and obedience to Christ] which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.
So what’s a wise way to respond to our trials in life?
Whenever you’re in a trial, draw close to Jesus in it. Otherwise it can crush you and your faith. Don’t face it with blinders, where it’s all you can see and feel. Know God is in this w/you. Know He intends to use this to produce something glorious in you.
In every difficulty, especially these long drawn out I-don’t-think-I-can-make-it trials—God seeks to develop you into men and women who live wisely in this world. With a faith that is proven, so that God’s generous love and grace and power are proven to you. That God is known and proven to be worth following in any crisis, any battle, any loss. Through this, we become like the ancient prophets, Job, Paul, Stephen, James, who know endured in their trust and hope in God and were more hopeful. More joyful. More like Christ as a result. He was glorified; they are richly rewarded.