Tests of Vital Faith
Tests of a Vital Faith (James 1:1-18)
James—The Brother of Jesus
The first word of the Letter of James identifies the writer: "James" (1:1). In Hebrew, the name James is Jacob. At least three prominent followers of Jesus bore this name: James the son of Alphaeus; James the son of Zebedee; and James, the Lord's half brother. James the son of Alphaeus drops out of the biblical record so completely that he probably was too unimportant to get away with the simple designation that opens the letter; Herod Agrippa I beheaded James the son of Zebedee about AD 42-44 (Acts 12:2). Obviously, the man who wrote the Book of James was so well known that he only needed to use his first name. James the half brother of Jesus meets that qualification.
God sent His Son to a home. All of the daily difficulties and tedious chores of domestic life conditioned Christ's growth. James observed his older half brother's reaction to them all. One can guess James's thoughts as he watched Jesus wander the hillsides of Galilee, often meditating on the scroll of Isaiah. James witnessed the day when Jesus left their quiet home to walk to the Jordan River where John the Baptizer preached. What shock seized James when Jesus returned to preach in the synagogue at Nazareth and claimed to fulfill the words of Isaiah (Luke 4:16-21)? James's and others' verdict appears plainly in Mark 3:21. They thought Jesus was out of His mind. John recorded that Jesus' brothers half taunted Him, insinuating that a real prophet should show himself in Jerusalem (John 7:1-5). John clearly stated that Jesus' brothers did not believe in Him.
Do you have a family member who rejects Christ's claims? Perhaps you would be encouraged to know that Jesus' own brothers rejected Him at first. No record shows that His sisters ever placed their faith in Him as Savior and Lord. You have not failed just because your family does not believe. Jesus did not coerce James into belief.
How, then, did Jesus' unbelieving brother become the chief pastor of the church at Jerusalem and the leader of the first great church council? (See Acts 15.) The key seems to be an appearance to James by the risen Christ. Paul alone recorded that Jesus appeared to James for a special conversation (1 Cor. 15:7). For James, Jesus' resurrection transformed a mere brother into a glorious Lord.
James's transformation caused him to wait with the disciples in the upper room for the Holy Spirit's power (Acts 1:14). With the death of James the son of Zebedee about AD 42-44, James, Jesus' brother, became head of the Jerusalem church.
James—a Palestinian Jew
The Letter of James breathes the atmosphere of Palestinian Judaism. Even without the author's name, one could know that he lived in the Promised Land. For example, James wrote of the patient Palestinian farmer who waited for the early and late rains (Jas. 5:7). The early and late rains were characteristic of Palestine, not of Italy, Egypt, or Asia Minor. James the Jew wrote of "Abraham our father" (2:21), "Lord of sabaoth" (5:4, KJV), and assumed that his readers were familiar with Job, the prophets, and Jewish law. He even called the Christian place of worship a synagogue (2:2, Greek text)! God always uses the background of those whom He calls. So, James the Jew wrote his letter for those whom he knew best, Jewish Christians.
The Letter of James has less about Jesus' life than any other New Testament letter. Yet, no other epistle reflects more of Jesus or contains as many echoes of His words. For instance, James made at least fourteen allusions to Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. Each chapter of James has echoes of his half brother's great Sermon. If Jesus' words so saturated believers' conversations, what impact would they make?
An Early Letter
The Letter of James does not come with a postmark. How does one know when a letter like this was written? Suppose you went to a meeting one year that changed your life and the lives of those around you. If you wrote a Christmas letter to all of your friends that year, would you not describe that meeting, or at least mention it? Or, suppose that the city where you live was destroyed. You certainly would mention that in your letter. Similarly, in about AD 49-51 James presided over a meeting that changed the church. At the Jerusalem Council, Gentiles were freed from keeping the Jewish law in order to become Christians. In AD 70, James's city, Jerusalem, was wasted. Indeed, a strong tradition places James's death in AD 62. James's letter makes no reference either to the council or to the destruction of Jerusalem. Because of that, it may have been written sometime between AD 44 and 50. This would make the letter a rival for the honor of the oldest writing in the New Testament.
The Letter of James was not as quickly accepted as authoritative Scripture by the early church as were some other books. The first clear reference to the Book of James as Holy Scripture came from the theologian Origen of Alexandria in North Africa sometime after AD 231. By AD 393, however, the whole church had accepted the biblical authority of James. Later, Martin Luther disparaged the letter. He called it an epistle of straw because he thought that James disagreed with Paul's view of faith. Luther put the letter at the end of his German translation of the New Testament. Now, the book is where it belongs: in the midst of the great General Letters of the New Testament. Today, believers accept its authority as a God-breathed Word without error.
James—Brother and Servant
Today, writers sign their letters at the end. Often, readers look at the bottom of a letter first to see who wrote it. Ancient writers stated first who wrote the letter. James began his letter in this manner (1:1).
Note that James claimed no special title. He could have claimed botherhood with Jesus; yet, in humility, he made no mention of that tie. James did not claim his title as pastor of the Jerusalem church or even as an apostle. He simply was James, standing before his Lord without any earthly title. Every believer stands before Christ in this manner.
Indeed, the only thing that James wrote about himself was that he was a bondslave "of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ" (1:1). The only claim that he made was one of ownership by God in Christ. Like all believers, he was bought with a price (1 Cor. 6:20). The language that James used connected Christ with the God of the Old Testament. Such confession offers a unique testimony to Jesus. James shared the Nazareth home, the boyhood days, and the Galilean hills with Jesus. Yet, he confessed that his brother now was his Lord and deserved equal devotion with Jehovah God of the Old Testament.
God's Scattered People
God had not lost the address of His Old Covenant people. James sent the letter "to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad" (1:1, KJV). He included as the recipients all Jews as well as Christian Jews.
Remember that the earliest Jewish believers had no sectarian name that separated them from other Jews. Many had not broken from the synagogue. At first, Jewish Christians maintained the hope that all of their fellow Jews would turn to Christ. James chose the strongest possible way to address all Jews. Gentiles read and profited by James's letter, but I feel that he wrote primarily to his Jewish brethren.
God's people usually have been scattered. Thus, James addressed the twelve scattered tribes. By the time James wrote, as many as 4,000,000 Jews were scattered in the Roman world. The different groups of people who listened to Peter's sermon in Acts 2 suggests how dispersed the Jews were. In almost every distant city, Paul found a synagogue. Strabo, a geographer who was contemporary with Jesus, exclaimed: "It is hard to find a spot in the whole world which is not occupied and dominated by the Jews." They were Jews of the Diaspora or Dispersion.
Only a persevering postman could have carried James's letter to all the scattered Jews! This letter probably addressed a particular group of the Diaspora. Those immediately north in Syria or those in the oldest resettlements in Mesopotamia likely received this general letter. Jewish Christians who were driven out after Stephen's death resettled in these areas. (See Acts 8:1; 11:19.) (Some interpreters hold that the phrase "the twelve tribes in the Dispersion" [1:1] refers to the true people of God everywhere.)
Contemporary Christians need to recover the concept of being scattered. In New Testament times, God purposely scattered the Jews as He scattered seed for gospel soil. Too often, Christians have gathered together in safe enclaves rather than to disperse to witness to the world. Today, holy huddles need to break up into world witnesses.
Churches have built their own gymnasiums, schools, and intricate social structures. While none of these is wrong in itself, all of them together can keep believers from being scattered as salt and light in a rotting and darkened world. One minister received an advertisement for a Christian subdivision in which only born again people could live within its walls. That conjures up the image of Christian grocery stores where only Christians may shop for consecrated corn flakes, justified jelly, and sacred sauerkraut! Christians must risk contact with a spiritually sick world's festering need. In James's day, God scattered His people throughout the Roman Empire.
Testing Times (1:2-4)
How do people face life's tests? God's providence gives believers daily quizzes and periodic final examinations in Christian living. Some persons react to life's tests with denial. They say: This is not happening to me. Others react with escape; they turn to marijuana, cocaine, or a promiscuous one-night stand. Still others respond to trials with a shallow, humanistic optimism. In a tiny church where members quoted their favorite verses each Sunday, one elderly man cited the same one every Sunday. His favorite verse was: "Grin and bear it." Many whine at life with a perpetual four-part anthem in a different minor key each day: "Nobody knows the trouble I've seen."
Can Christians respond to trials differently? James stressed that they can. Believers can face life's testing times with joy because they understand God's purposes in the test. People's outlook determines their outcome. However, believers must recognize the reality of life's testing times. James wrote, "when you meet various trials" (1:2), not: if you meet various trials. Testing times come to every believer. The Greek word translated "trials" may refer to testing or to tempting, depending on the context. In verse 13, the same word refers to temptation. In verse 2, it refers to tests which prove Christian character.
God tests believers to bring out the best; Satan tempts them to bring out the worst. A person chooses whether or not tests become temptations. Trials may refine people or ruin them, depending on their reactions. God's intention in every test of health or wealth is positive. The word trial indicates a test that discovers the nature or quality of the person being tested. James's words remind readers that whether they face trials is not the main point, but whether the trials make or break them. People may lose their wallets or their businesses. They may have blisters on their fingers or aneurysms on their arteries. They may have their plans for tomorrow crushed or their plans for a lifetime wrecked. The test may come in a doctor's diagnosis; a teenager's temper tantrum, friction at the office, or the pettiness of a good friend.
Although life's trials definitely come, they appear at indefinite times. The Greek word for "trials" gives the English word pirate. Like pirates, trials ambush the unsuspecting saint. James stressed that believers "fall" (KJV) into trials. That is a technicolor word. Jesus used the same word to indicate the hapless traveler to Jericho who suddenly "fell" into the midst of thieves (Luke 10:30). The same word indicated a ship that suddenly was stranded on a sand bar (Acts 27:41). James saw believers facing unwelcome, unexpected, and unavoidable encounters with life's tests. More than coming at indefinite times, life's tests are personalized and synchronized. James used the colorful word translated "various" (1:2). The word could be translated multicolored. In the Septuagint, the same word was: used to refer to Joseph's many-colored coat. A trial comes to match every color of one's personality; Trials have people's zip codes and thumbprints on them. What may shake the foundations of one person's life may not even touch another. God asked only Abraham, not Joseph or Moses, to sacrifice his son. Jesus asked only the rich young ruler to sell everything, not Nicodemus. He had a trial matched to test the faith of each -person, but no trials were exactly alike.
Trials not only come personalized, but they also come synchronized, all., at once. Shakespeare said: "When sorrows come, they come not single spies, But in battalions." Everything happens at once. Trials of health lead to trials of wealth. These lead to vocational trials, domestic trials, and emotional trials. Jesus' closing parable in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 7:24-27) is about two builders who faced rain on the roof, wind on the walls, and water rising up to eat away the foundation—all at the same time. "Various trials" are just that: many simultaneous testing times.
Realize the Reaction of a Christian
The Christians' outlook determines their outcome in testing times. Rather than run, rejoice! My paraphrase of James 1:2 is: Deem it an occasion of pure joy whenever you are ambushed by life's tests. James did not indicate that trials are a joy, and he did not mean that the greatest joy in life is a trial. Excellent Christians do not frolic their way to funerals, go hilariously to hospitals, or zestfully watch their bank accounts go to zero. The text indicates that believers can make trials an occasion of joy if they understand the trials' purpose. Even Jesus "for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame" (Heb. 12:2).
At the higher levels of Christian living, one may count one's trials "all joy." Here the word "all" has an intensifying effect: unmixed joy. Sweetness more than bitterness and light more than shadow can be people's portion during life's testing times. Joy reflects pleasure in one's progress toward Christian maturity through trials. One can encounter every trial and can write over it the words, "permitted by the Father." He has a purpose for trials in individuals' lives—to make believers mature through trials.
No one can deny the difficulty of facing life's tests. James called for a radical, prior decision. One might paraphrase 1:2: Count (deem, reckon) your trials to be occasions of joy before they come. To turn trials into triumphs or irritations into edifications is not natural. James's words have the sharp, urgent snap of a command to adopt an attitude now, while things are going well. Everyone needs an international date line which one crosses in reference to trials. Each person heeds to cross a continental divide which gives one a different view of life's tests. People do this best before the trial comes, not in the midst of the trial. Have you ever deliberately and thoughtfully adopted an attitude toward those days which are sure to come?
Reaffirm the Reason for Trials
People's outlook does determine their outcome. Christians may deem trials as occasions of joy because they understand God's purpose in the trials, but believers cannot be what they might have been without life's testing times. As athletes say: "No pain, no gain." Airplanes take off by overcoming the resistance of gravity and wind. Yet, the wind that resists them lifts them higher. Trials function like that in Christians' lives.
Life's tests prove the genuineness of a believer's faith: "for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness" (1:3). To paraphrase, Trials prove what is genuine in your faith. Here, the word testing means the results of the trial, the tested residue that remains after the trying time. A refined, genuine element of true character remains after tribulation blows away the chaff. Peter expressed the same hope: "so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Pet. 1:7). Just as the craftsman heats gold ore in order to skim away the dross, so God permits testing times in the believer's life. When the dross floats to the top, He skims it away so that He sees His face reflected in people's lives. That was Job's victorious shout after he had endured many tests: "When he has tried me, I shall come forth as gold" (Job 23:10).
Untested faith would be suspect. A ship built in drydock is not proved seaworthy until it hits gale-force winds. A raw recruit with six weeks' boot camp is not really battle proved until he has faced enemy fire. So faith must be proved on the battlefield of life.
Life's testing times also prove the durability of a person's faith: "The testing of your faith produces steadfastness" (1:3). This sort of steadfastness reveals itself in triumphant fortitude, unswerving constancy, and unending tenacity. Trials show one's capacity to stand up and take adversity—over and over. The Christian gospel is one of a good finish, not just a good start. God required Abraham to wait twenty-five years before giving him the son of promise. Joseph showed constancy for thirteen years from pit to prison before he reached the palace. Moses waited eighty years to discover God's crowning purpose for his life. In each instance, faith, through trials, displayed active patience. Listening to sermons, reading this book, or even praying cannot substitute for the laboratory of life in this regard.
Life's testing times develop the mature ripeness of people's faith. No one can buy synthetic maturity. Recently, an entrepreneur invented synthetic ice cream extracted from soybeans. It really tastes like ice cream, yet not a drop of cream is in it. No such shortcut to Christian growth exists. James stated the organic process of Christian maturity: "And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing" (1:4). Christians must not short-circuit the chain of events described in 1:3-4. My paraphrase is: Keep on letting steadfast endurance work its way out in your life. Such unswerving tenacity will lead to mature ripeness in Christian character. This process ultimately will make one "perfect" (1:4).
The word "perfect" does not imply that one can become sinless or absolutely without flaw in this life. The word does indicate that life's trials help every grace reach its ripe maturity in one's life. Believers need not be stunted in any essential of the Christian life. Not only can they be mature but also "complete" (1:4). The word "complete" indicates anything with all its parts present; no part is missing or inadequate. Together, both words represent a well-rounded, full-grown Christian experience.
In order to make steel a thing of value, craftsmen must temper it. The process requires that the raw metal be heated glowing hot and then plunged into a solution of brine or oil. This produces a screaming hiss of metal and liquid. However, the steel that is produced has a hardness that comes in no other way. God tempers believers through testing times.
If believers understood testings better, they might sing: Count your many trials, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord has done. In this regard, Christians need to be like oysters. Whenever an irritation lodges in an oyster, the oyster turns a problem into a pearl. Every irritation can be edification and every trial a triumph. One's outlook determines the outcome.
Wisdom—The Resource for Testing Times (1:5-8)
Facing testing times with a mature outlook demands insight beyond oneself. One arrives at a necessary recognition: "if any of you lacks wisdom" (1:5). The qualifying "if" should not mislead anyone. The words should be understood to mean: Since individuals among you are deficient in wisdom. The text implies that some believers came short of the wisdom that was needed to turn trials into triumphs. James fixed on individual responsibility to recognize this fact.
To face life's quizzes with the right outlook requires continual intercession—perpetual requests to God. When a person needed wisdom, James wrote: "Let him ask God..." (1:5). The phrase does not imply permission as much as it does a mandate. The habitual duty of one who is deficient in wisdom must be to ask God continually for insight. James must have been recalling Jesus' repeated teaching. Jesus stressed persistence in prayer.
Surely, James and his readers understood verse 5 to be an allusion to Solomon's youthful request for wisdom (1 Kings 3:7). Solomon begged God for wisdom that would be equal to his task. God quickly gave him the requested wisdom for a specific, difficult problem or case (1 Kings 3:16-28). James assured all believers that each one had the same privilege before God as the famous king had.
God's Generous Goodness
God does not give with a closed fist; He gives with an open hand. He is a God who gives to all persons liberally (Jas. 1:5). Generously and simply, God gives the asking believer wisdom. His gift is without reservation, hesitation, or calculation for a return gift. The text implies that God gives a person wisdom without any secondary motive or deceit. He gives with a single-minded generosity.
James literally called God the giving God. The force of the expression is difficult to translate. God's giving is not so much an act as it is a habit. He must give as surely as the sun must give light as it burns or as a flower gives fragrance as it blooms. God's giving is part of His nature. When believers ask Him to give wisdom, they do not ask Him to do a strange thing.
When a person asks God for wisdom, God gives such wisdom positively: He gives "without reproaching" (1:5). God does not rebuke, criticize, or complain when one asks Him for wisdom. James specifically meant that God does not reproach the believer for what he/she did with God's last gift. He never says: What did you do with the last gift I gave you? You have wasted everything else; why should I help you now? No, God does not despise ordinary, blundering people who come again and again. That God gives is wonderful. That He gives liberally is more wonderful. One may go to Him a thousand times. One may go with needs as great as a vacant ocean. One even may go to Him after years of ingratitude. God does not reproach those who ask.
God's Giving—People's Receiving
James moved from the quality of divine giving to the quality of human receiving. Attention shifted from the willing Father to the waiting child. The seeker for wisdom in trials must pray in a single atmosphere. "Let him ask in faith" (1:6). The petitioner must approach habitually, with faith in God's character and in His ability to give. The best comment is Hebrews 11:6: "Without faith it is impossible to please him. For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him." The Christian must come to God with a wholehearted confidence that He will heed one's request.
Even more emphatically, James urged believers to come "with no doubting" (1:6). The Greek word for doubting suggested a critical state of mind constantly hesitating and being indecisive. Such an attitude always debates with itself about God's character. It oscillates between belief and unbelief. What specific doubt did James have in mind? He seemed to indicate that an inner civil war exists between trust and distrust of God. This may be at the point of God's ability to grant one's request or at the point of His willingness to do so. Others have thought that James had in mind a practical doubting which wavers between God and the world. Such a prayer hesitates between friendship with the world and allegiance to God. (See 4:4.)
When believers pray with doubting and wavering, they demonstrate a radical defect in their approach to God. James vividly portrayed such a person as a "wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind" (1:6). Divine wisdom cannot be given to a mind that is tossed here and there by doubt about God's character. James knew from the storms on the Sea of Galilee what a maverick wave could do to unsettle and frighten people. (See Luke 8:24.)
Christians who are blown about by doubt and disbelief in their prayer life face disaster. God insists only that one believe that He exists and that He has the kind of goodwill toward the one praying that a father has toward his children. Do you see a gathering storm of instability in your life? God wants you to pray and not to be like the wind-driven surge, but to be like the strong current of a rapid river that sweeps away obstacles as it bears steadily onward into the ocean of divine grace. As always, Jesus said it best: "Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and never doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, "Be taken up and cast into the sea," it will be done. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith'" (Matt. 21:21-22).
What is the result of the kind of "seasick" praying that James described in verse 6? James warned emphatically: "That person must not suppose that a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways, will receive anything from the Lord" (1:7-8). Such a wavering Christian might make an unwarranted judgment. He might imagine a divine answer to such divided praying. James set the record straight: Such praying receives neither wisdom for trials nor anything else. With the phrase "that person," James disassociated himself from the doubting individual with a hint of disapproval or contempt. Divided praying finds that heaven is a brass canopy.
Indeed, the divided person is "double-minded" (v. 7). Literally, the Greek word can be rendered two-souled. James coined a word that was used nowhere else in the Greek language before his time. Doubting, wavering praying literally houses a divided mind or heart. The Old Testament provided James with this concept. Every Jew repeated daily that God is one and should be loved with an undivided heart (Deut. 6:4-5). Doubleness of heart is the essence of sin in the Old Testament. (See Ps. 12:1-2.) The essence can be caught by visualizing someone who straddles the fence.
Further, the divided person who is drawn in two directions reveals instability in "all his ways" (Jas. 1:8). His heart reflects the instability of a kingdom where no one person rules. With the fickleness that characterizes a boy who loves one girl friend today and another tomorrow, so that person prays. As Moffatt translated: "He is... wavering at every turn." What is worse, his praying affects his whole conduct in life in all that he does. Vacillating prayer leads one to an indecisive walk. Such a divided person displays instability throughout his life. One who cannot trust God may not be trustworthy.
Poor Man, Rich Man—Two Tests (1:9-11)
Two tests are common to life everywhere: the test of plenty and the test of want. James addressed the test of poverty and the test of affluence. Whereas some interpreters view this as an entirely new subject, it likely is a continuation of James's treatment of life's tests. He moved from the general discussion of trials (1:2-8) to specific tests that require a full use of divine wisdom.
The Test of Poverty
First, James wrote of the Christian brother in a difficult economic situation: "Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation" (1:9). The person whom James identified was a Christian brother. Yet, the Christian brother found himself in "lowly" circumstances. The word "lowly" suggests one who was poor, oppressed, humble, and seemingly unimportant. The early church's records suggest that many of its members were from the lowest economic levels of society. The burial inscriptions in catacombs at Rome reveal a huge number of slaves who embraced Christianity; For many in James's day, Christ was their only hope.
What should such poor, oppressed people do? James encouraged them to boast in their high spiritual position. He did not mean that every poor, person was blessed spiritually by poverty. He meant just the opposite, for poverty can embitter and ruin people. While physically poor, they are spiritually rich. They should "rejoice in... [their] exalted station" (Williams). The joy of this kind of reversal of fortune animated Mary's great Magnificat or exalted song which she sang (Luke 1:46-55). Mary was the mother of Jesus and James. She exulted that in the incarnation, God "'has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree'" (Luke 1:52). Perhaps this became a theme in Jesus and James's Nazareth home.
James urged that poor believers separate the present from the end time to come. The godless rich people arrogantly boasted in the present. The Christians enjoyed spiritual riches and would triumph in the world to come.
The Test of Affluence
James turned his attention to the rich man. Did James consider wealth a greater test of Christian character than poverty? Note that he wrote twice as much in warning the rich. Some scholars have doubted that the rich man (1:10) was even a Christian. They have seen James's warning as being like Jesus' warning about the rich fool (Luke 12:13-21). However, in parallel with 1:9, to understand that the rich man was a Christian brother is best. Although such cases were rare in the early church, they were not nonexistent.
An affluent believer was' to boast in his spiritual humiliation. This sense of self-abasement should have come from his identification with Christ and His poor people. Furthermore, he was to recognize his own sin and the fleeting character of human wealth. Out of all this, he would be able to walk before God and people in humility, not in the arrogance of the proud rich. Before the affluent believer's eyes remained the reminder: "like the flower of the grass he [the proud rich person] will pass away" (1:10). Elsewhere, James wrote of the uncertain character of life (4:14).
A vivid illustration of the sudden reversal of fortunes for the worldly rich people is the burning east wind from the Syrian desert. At first light, the emerald grass and delicate wildflower kiss the morning dew. Yet by midday, the blast of the desert wind will leave only parched, blighted ground. The flower of the morning is fit only for fuel in the communal clay oven in the afternoon. No one ever has seen a hearse with a U-Haul trailer behind it. Much of people's efforts to secure life financially is like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Or, as one familiar statement says, shrouds have no pockets.
A Beatitude for Testing Times (1:12)
James closed his section on testing times with a personal beatitude for the believer who faced life's tests. Whether the man was rich or poor, he was blessed if he faced the trial with steadfast endurance and triumphant fortitude. The word "blessed" suggested someone who shared in the life of God. Such a person enjoyed a divine sufficiency in life, regardless of circumstances. When such a person has stood the test, he will receive the victor's wreath. James employed a term that was used for those who had qualified for the athletic games. For the Christian, that wreath will be eternal life. Beyond the cross of trial is the crown of life.
Tempting Times (1:13-17)
One must distinguish carefully between testing times and tempting times. God permits tests so that believers might show the genuineness and durability of their faith. Temptation does not come from God. Testing times may become tempting times if the believer mishandles them. Yet, no one may blame God for temptations to sin (1:13).
As he liked to do, James placed a statement in the mouth of a detractor: "I am tempted by God" (1:13). This style of writing was called the diatribe style and probably reflected doubters or opponents as they interrupted early Christian preaching. James responded that God is not even the remote source of temptation. He cannot be tempted to do evil; He literally is untemptable. As asbestos is to fire, so God resists temptation—absolutely. He cannot be tempted even with the desire to tempt anyone! Perhaps James's opponent blamed God for human lust.
Late one night, I rode across a remote stretch of desert on the way back to an airport after a speaking engagement. On the long trip, a pastor shared his burden. A young woman in his church came for counsel. She shared that God had revealed to her that she must marry a certain man in the church. To the pastor's shock, that man was a married deacon. I counseled the pastor to confront the young lady With James 1:13. We must use God's Word to reveal such moral confusion for what it is. God does not relate even remotely to such errors.
Anatomy of a Temptation
James dramatically portrayed the process of temptation. Led by the Holy Spirit, he displayed the keenest perception of human nature. Ultimately, "each person" (1:14) is nailed with the responsibility for his/her own temptations. Ever since Adam blamed Eve, people have shown an innate tendency to shift the blame for sin to someone else. Today, people blame economic, social, educational, and even genetic factors for their failure to live responsibly under God. James riveted the blame directly where it belonged—on the sinner. He indicated that the culprit is lust ("desire," 1:14). Unfortunately, this word always has sexual overtones in today's world. Actually, the word referred to any strong desire outside of God's will. It might be desire for fame, position, power, wealth, or illicit sexual relations.
To describe the allure of lust, James used terms from the world of hunting and fishing. "Lured and enticed" (1:14) belonged to the sporting world. "Lured" indicated drawing a fish out of repose with bait. "Enticed" referred to drawing an animal to a trap with bait. The two terms graphically presented lust's unsettling deception. James pictured a believer at rest in the settled restraint of disciplined living. Suddenly the bait was presented, and the person was lured out of rest. When he took the bait, he was surprised that he had been caught and could not escape. In 1:15, James changed the figure of speech from the sporting world to that of an illegitimate birth. Lust is personified as an evil seductress who entices a person and then conceives a terrible offspring. When lust gives birth, the birth certificate records the name: sin. When sin reaches maturity, it, too, takes part in a terrible conception. Sin produces the monstrous offspring, death. James traced three generations of an awful family: lust, sin, and death. Only God's liberating act in Christ can stop this terrible genealogy and transfer a person to God's family.
The Father of Lights
To attribute the dark process of lust, sin, and death to God is an error that strikes at the heart of faith. James charged believers to stop being deceived at this point (1:16). God is never the Father in this terrible family of darkness. He always is the "Father of lights" (1:17), for He created all heavenly luminaries. The Milky Way galaxy in which planet earth orbits contains a million suns brighter than earth's sun. If one could travel at the speed of light (186,000 miles per second), it would take about 100,000 years just to cross the Milky Way. Yet this is just one galaxy among millions. God created all the lights in all the galaxies.
Furthermore, God created all moral and spiritual lights. Christ embodied this light. John wrote that in Christ, "the true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world" (John 1:9). James indicated that God is light that never can be eclipsed: "There is no variation" with Him (1:17). James's phrase "no... shadow due to change" could refer to an astronomical eclipse or to the change of seasons. On earth, the amount and intensity of light varies with the change of seasons. With God, no such variation occurs. He is such light that not even a shadow can be cast on Him. While one may worry about changes in the stock market, the international situation, or personal health, one need not worry about God's nature. Yesterday, today, and tomorrow, He is the source of totally good gifts.
Born by the Word (1:18)
God does not give birth to temptation but to regeneration. Lust gives birth to sin and death. God's Word gives the new birth. In 1:18, birth by the Word is a deliberate contrast to the awful birth of sin in 1:15. The instrument by which spiritual birth comes is God's Word. This fastens an awesome responsibility on those who proclaim and teach that Word. James saw the first generation of believers as the "first fruits of his creatures" (1:18). In the Old Testament, the Israelites offered the first part of their crops as an acknowledgement that the whole harvest belonged to God. More was to come, and it would be the result of God's blessings. Even so, James saw in the scattered communities of Jewish Christians the first fruits of a great harvest which was to come.
Lessons for Life from James 1:1-18
Every believer should prepare in advance for life's testing times. Have your family members discussed how they would respond in the face of life's tests of health and wealth? One godly young couple lost their little son in a tragic accident. Part of their response was to bring their offering by the Sunday School department as they were on their way to the funeral home to make final selections. Such disciplined living does not come without prior commitment.
Increasingly, affluent Christians must come to grips with their wealth. Baptists are becoming an incredibly wealthy people. Along with this comes the temptation to covet, to grasp, and to hold more and more. However, one should develop the discipline to hold life's material things with an easy grip.
Avoid the temptation to blame God for moral and spiritual failures. Many people complain to God: "Why did you make me this way?" This does not excuse irresponsible rebellion against God. People must assume responsibility for their choices and acts. They must acknowledge what they are before they, in repentance, can disown what they are.
Recognize that everything deserving the name good comes from God. Insurance companies refer to natural tragedies as "acts of God." This may reflect the human tendency to blame God for bad things rather than to praise Him for good things. Have you paused to take inventory of life's blessings? God always deserves praise, never blame.
Personal Learning Activities
1. According to Dr. Gregory, the author of the Letter of James was (choose the correct answer from the list):
□ (1) James the son of Alphaeus.
□ (2) James the son of Zebedee.
□ (3) James, Jesus' half brother.
□ (4) An unknown James.
2. According to James, life's trials ________________________________________ (Choose the proper response from the list.)
□ (1) Are a means of judgment
□ (2) Are signs of God's displeasure
□ (3) Are to be endured grudgingly
□ (4) Prove what is genuine in one's faith
3. James wrote that one must ask God for wisdom (select the correct answer from the list):
□ (1) In faith, without doubting.
□ (2) As a last resort.
□ (3) Repeatedly.
□ (4) Boldly.
4. According to Dr. Gregory, two tests common to life everywhere are _________ and _______ (Choose the proper responses from the list.)
□ (1) Sickness
□ (2) Plenty
□ (3) Pain
□ (4) Want
□ (5) Stress
□ (6) Aging
5. James stated that temptations ultimately come from God.
□ True □ False
1. (3); 2. (4); 3. (1); 4. (2),(4); 5. False.
James: Faith Works!.