James 1:1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings.
The author of this letter was probably James, the brother of Jesus Christ (Matthew 13:55). James did not believe in his brother until after the resurrection (John 7:5, 1 Corinthians 15:7), but then he became a leader of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 15:13, Galatians 2:9).
The recipients of this letter were likely Jewish Christians who had been dispersed because of persecution (Acts 8:1, 11:19). James wrote as a pastor to a scattered congregation, encouraging them to keep living as believers. He probably wrote around AD 45, just fifteen years after the crucifixion. If so, this may be the earliest book of the New Testament.
James 1:2-4 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
James wrote to people who were going through a difficult time, and urged them to rejoice because of what it did for their character. God was at work in their trials, to help them mature in their faith. We prefer to live in comfort, of course, but God’s design is to make us like Christ. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son (Romans 8:29), wrote Paul.
The process of maturing in Christ can be compared to making a cake from scratch. Baking soda, raw eggs, vanilla and flour do not taste good individually. But when combined with other ingredients, and baked for thirty minutes, the result is something delicious (Randy Alcorn). The circumstances of our lives are not always great in themselves, but taken together, they are used by God to make us like Christ.
James 1:5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.
First century Christians needed wisdom to navigate their difficult circumstances, so James reminded them of the wisdom of prayer. We like to consult the experts, but often neglect the only one who knows everything. The first thing we should do, when we don’t know what to do, is to go to God in prayer.
A father and son were exploring an old mine with a flashlight. They marked the intersections so they could find their way out, but deep in the mine their flashlight failed. They crept along the walls hoping to feel their way out, but after an hour, they knew they were hopelessly lost. Then they decided to pray.
As they prayed, they felt a gentle breeze, which they knew could only come from outside. So they followed the breeze and found their way to safety. It would have been wiser to bring an extra flashlight, but God can give us wisdom even when we have been foolish. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God.
James 1:6-8 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.
Christians often struggle with a split personality. They believe enough to go to church, but not enough to invite others. They have one vocabulary for Sundays, and another for the rest of the week. They believe enough to be honest, unless it will cost their job. Like someone with a foot in two boats, they are unstable in all they do.
The solution to this problem is to believe and not doubt, wrote James. We do not become steady in our faith by doubting, but by believing what God has said. No one knew the Bible better than Jesus, or had a stronger faith than Jesus. The better we know and believe God’s word, the more stable we will be in our faith.
James 1:13 When tempted, no one should say, God is tempting me. For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone.
Tempting and testing are closely related, and easily confused. If you find a wallet full of money, Satan will tempt you to keep it. But God is also testing you to see if you will return it. The same event can be a temptation as well as a test. Satan tempts that he may ruin; God tests that he may crown.
James 1:14 [E]ach person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.
First the thought enters the mind, then it sparks the imagination, then there is a sense of pleasure, then we perform the deed. That is why it is easier to resist temptation at the beginning than at the end. The longer temptation is entertained, the more powerful it becomes.
The best way to overcome temptation is by rejecting it at once. That is what Jesus did when he was tempted by the devil in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11). The temptations were powerful, but he dismissed them promptly, and emerged unscathed. If we are his disciples, we should do the same.
James 1:15 [S]in, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
David’s son Amnon is a perfect example of this. The first time he had a romantic feeling toward his half-sister Tamar, he should have put it down. But Amnon became so obsessed with his sister . . . that he made himself ill (2 Samuel 13:2). Then he raped her (2 Samuel 13:14), and was later put to death (2 Samuel 13:28-29). Many believers flirt with sin, but that is a dangerous practice. The best time to kill your sin is before it kills you.
James 1:17 Every good and perfect gift is from above.
The smell of coffee, a deep blue sky, and a convenient parking spot are all gifts to brighten our day. If we think of these as circumstantial, we will be guilty of ingratitude and deprive ourselves of joy. But if we believe that every good and perfect gift is from above, we will give thanks to God and grow in our love for him. God is always showing his love to us, and we should be aware of it.
Reflection and Review
- How does hardship make us better?
- What is the best way to defeat temptation?
- Why should Christians be thankful for little things?