by Frank Luke
The Letter of James was one of the first books written for the New Testament. James writes not to criticize his readers but to bring them to repentance. Unlike Paul, James writes not to an individual church but to all churches. A call to unity in the church. Stand together against pressure from without and gossip from within. He wrote to a church under economic and social pressure to conform to unbelievers but little to no physical persecution. That would come later. As James would attest were he alive today.
James was martyred by Annas the Younger, one of the chief Sadducees. This was the son of the chief priest who condemned Jesus to death. Something of a rematch you might say. Like his father, Annas thought he had won, but it was James who won. He said, “I cannot refuse to die for He who lives for me.” James was afterwards thrown from the roof of the temple. The fall did not kill him, and his last act before he was struck with a club was to pray, “I entreat thee, Lord God our Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Striving to be like Jesus even to the last.
James 1:1-15 James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings. 2 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. 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. 6 But he 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. 9But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; 10 and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. 11 For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away. 12 Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. 13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. 14 But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. 15 Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.
Last week, we looked at some of the wisdom literature in the Old Testament. As I said, it was a very important part of the Hebrew people. They wanted wisdom to live the way that God wanted them to live. Godly living came from godly wisdom. If it was so important to them, surely the quest for wisdom would continue into the time of the New Testament, right?
Yes, it did. You will find wisdom woven throughout the writings of the New Testament. Jesus speaks it. Paul writes it. The books of James, Jude, and the epistles of John are pure wisdom literature. They take God’s wisdom and distill it straight to the believer.
When Jesus first began His ministry, James did not believe He was the Messiah. However, after the resurrection, Jesus made a special appearance to James, and James converted. He became the leader of the church in Jerusalem and presided over the first church council where they decided what to do about the Gentile problem—Do gentiles have to become Jews before they become Christians? James led the group saying “No. Christ has not called them to be burdened by the Torah.”
Point 1: Joy from Trials
James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings. 2 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
James first tells us he wrote the letter to the Twelve Tribes. It is interesting that he addresses all twelve. While many people think ten of the twelve tribes disappeared before Jesus was born, the New Testament presents it differently. James, here, addresses all twelve, not just Judah and Benjamin. In the gospels, Anna is descended from Asher, one of the supposedly gone tribes. They were dispersed, but they did not disappear as many think. The New Testament also mentions descendants of Levi.
James point here is not about the tribes. He wants believers to live for God correctly. As Christians, we will experience trials of our faith. Some will be persecuted. Some will be killed. In any society that is not purely Christian, any Christian will face trials from unbelievers who are over them. This may be something like being denied a promotion, or it could be something greater. You may be made fun of. No, it is nothing as severe as execution for Christians that happens in some countries.
These trials are meant to make us better and strengthen us before the greater trials. You don’t wake up one morning and decide to run a marathon. You start out by getting off the couch and preparing your body. You learn to run. You learn the difference between sprinting and distance running. The style of training is different.
I know a sprinter who put everything into a run. He could do a 200 meter in amazing times in his prime. Don’t ask him to run another longer than 1000M. His wife signed them up for a charity run. 5K. Not only did he have to get back into running, he had to completely change the way he trained. What works for a sprint does not work for going longer distances. Likewise, what works over long distances won’t prepare the runner for a sprint.
These trials come about to teach us endurance. Harder trials are coming. We don’t want to think about that. I fully believe we are entering a time of persecution on the church that the American church is completely unprepared for. We’ve grown fat and lazy. For so long, the culture has been if not Christian friendly to Christians, that the times to come will be a complete shock.
Endurance training is never fun but it brings out in us what God wants us to have. God is letting the wheat and tares grow together. The sifting is coming, when God will separate the sheep from the goats. We need to be ready. We want to get to that other side. It can only happen if we make it through.
How do we prepare for trials? Seek wisdom. Wisdom is found in the words of Scripture. All of Scripture is given by God and is fruitful for believers. This is how God wants us to live.
This is why I get so confused by people who want to be only New Testament believers. Or even worse, only red-letter Christians. I want to say to them, so you must be denying the inspiration of the rest of Scripture. What gives you the right to ignore God’s blessing on mankind? 77 percent of Scripture is the Old Testament. So little of the Bible is Jesus’ spoken words during his earthly ministry, though. Willfully ignoring Scripture is setting yourself up over God and saying you know better. One might even summarize it as “God did not really say…”
We can’t become ready for the track meet by eating donuts. We don’t become ready for persecution by avoiding parts of Scripture we don’t like. In fact, we don’t grow as Christians by ignoring parts of Scripture.
Furthermore, to say that only the spoken words of Jesus matter is so off theologically. The Bible is the written Word of God just as Jesus is the Living Word. Scripture didn’t come only from the pens of men. They were moved to write what God wanted them to write.
Point 2: Wisdom From God
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. 6 But he 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. 9 But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; 10 and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. 11 For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away.
Right away, James shows he thinks like a Hebrew. The Greeks almost made an idol out of philosophy. The Romans did so with law. Both of those things could come from men without input of any higher power. But the Hebrew and later Jew recognized how wisdom came from God alone. Men can acquire knowledge, but wisdom is the application of that knowledge to problems at hand. You could say that knowledge is knowing if a thing can be done. Wisdom is knowing whether or not you should do it.
When you ask of God for the needed wisdom, you must ask expecting to receive. This is a request God always answers. People need wisdom in their lives just as surely as they need salvation in their spiritual life.
Having wisdom also means overcoming doubts. Wisdom knows what is right and what is wrong. Wisdom does not second guess. James warns us that those who doubt stumble from place to place with no sense of direction. It isn’t enough to make decisions when the time comes. The wise man can see problems on the horizon and decide what to do ahead of time. If the problem can’t be solved while it is far away, he knows what to do when it arrives.
It is unwise to wait for a problem to be on hand. How many of you wait until the sink is clogged to get Draino? You keep it on hand because the odds are very high you will need it someday. This is very important when the problems keep changing every day. How many of you ever thought that some Dr. Seuss books would be forbidden?
Wisdom also recognizes one’s circumstances in life. A wise Christian knows to glory in his salvation no matter how humbling his life is otherwise. Likewise, even Solomon knew that his riches meant nothing in the world to come.
A poem I read recently illustrated this. In it, a king of the fabled city of Atlantis was riding to the sea. When night came, he camped beneath a mighty oak tree. In the night, he realized how the oak forest around him had been there long before his crowning and would remain long after the city had fallen. Humbled, the mighty king mounted his horse and rode on. Death comes to even the most highly exalted.
Solomon said that life is but a vapor, a morning mist that fades in the sun. James repeats that. In 1 Corinthians 9:25, Paul reminds us that those who run in the race for Christ will all receive a crown that does not fade. 1 Peter 5:4 says the same thing. Gold does not last, silver falters, but Christ’s crown lasts forever.
The wise pursue the eternal.
Point 3: Temptation From Satan
12 Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. 13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. 14 But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. 15 Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.
The first thing we all experience as Christians is the sudden increase in temptation. One might even say that we only have sin problem after conversion. Before conversion, if I wanted to sin, it was no problem. However, once given to Christ, I had to change my ways. The things I used to do now grieved me. Yet, I struggled against them. What I wanted to do, I did not do, and what I wanted to not do, I did.
Temptations don’t come from God. God has given us trials but not temptation. Like Job, we must recognize what God has given us and what God can take away. I imagine it was not easy for that man to say, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.” When everything is taken from you, it can be hard to see the benefit. Job made it through the trial and was rewarded for it.
God promises further that He will never allow too much temptation to come against you. The Devil will try, but you always have the ability to stand up under the trial. You can make it. God promised.
A very important part of temptation is to remember that temptation is not sin. Experiencing temptation is not sin. It does not become sin until you act on it.
Satan knows which buttons to push. Satan knows where you are weakest and will try to make you falter and fail. A former drug addict will be reminded of how the drug made him forget the hardness of similar situations. A man who spends too much money will see things he absolutely has to have right now. However, the Devil cannot force you to sin. The best he can do is make it look enticing.
Our own lusts and frailties bring forth sin from the temptation. Our actions make the sin. The thought is not the sin. The temptation is not the sin. The action is the sin.
From the earliest time, sin has brought forth death. Death would have no hold on humanity without sin. That is why Christ came to overcome sin. Without Him, I would be nothing. Without Him, we would all still be lost in our sins.
The wise recognize their own frailties and turn to Christ to over come sin.
Do you lack wisdom? Better, where do you lack wisdom? None of us are all wise. We must look to God for our wisdom. He is the source and fountain of all wisdom. It is His wisdom that helps us overcome temptation. It is His wisdom that provides salvation. He is mighty. We are not.
Turn to God for wisdom. Think of a part of your life where you need wisdom. Think of a problem that could be overcome with wisdom. Pray to God for the wisdom you need.
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