Faith and Wisdom
Readers would do well to take careful note of the Apostle James’s frequent illustrations from nature that correspond to the Lord Jesus Christ’s parabolic teachings. Interestingly, the Epistle to the Hebrews closes the series of writings alleged in some theoretical circles to have been authored by Paul. It is succeeded, in our arrangement, by another series, comprising the Epistles of James, Peter, John, and Jude, which have usually been classed together, and designated, from the earliest times, as the Catholic or General Epistles.
“James, a servant of God” (verse 1) — A question generally asked regarding this book is “Who was the author?” The author here is identified only as James, and there are four men so named in the New Testament. Two, James the son of Alpheus (called “the less”; Mark 3:18; 15:40) and a virtually unknown James (Luke 6:16) are possible authors of this rather unique book. James the son of Zebedee and brother of John was martyred at the early date of A.D. 44 (see Acts 12:2). Another and more likely candidate for the writing of this “general epistle” was James, the half-brother of Jesus, who possessed all of the qualities of an author. For the sake of time and to avoid endless controversy, I will let you, the reader, decide. (Humorously stated)
“Count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations.” — In verse 2 and 3, the apostle opens with a crucial topic about the trials of life. These verses describe the various tests whether from the world or Satan, or from God. These negative experiences are to be accepted with joy and not for the sake of the trial itself, but because of the positive work of God can accomplish through testing. The words “temptations” and “trying” in these verses are often regarded as virtually synonymous.
Often, tests make Christians “bitter” instead of better, with no spiritual growth occurring. The Greek word for “trying” (Greek, “dokimion”) might be better translated as “approving.” It is not merely one’s presence in such trials, but one’s victory over them that brings spiritual growth and maturity. Those Christians whom God can use the most are those God has bruised the most. (Hampton)
Having said that patient endurance of trials will lead to spiritual maturity, James seems to anticipate his readers’ thoughts. Some would probably wonder how they could approach their trials with joy. They would feel that a greater wisdom than they possessed was required to have that joy. James says they should ask God for such wisdom because he is a generous provider who will not reproach us for asking (James 1:5).
Jesus told the listeners assembled on the mount, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-11).
The “wisdom” for which we should ask is the ability to rightly practice God’s word in the opportunities life presents (James 3:13-18).
The request of verse 5 must be made with full expectation of receiving (Hebrews 11:6). The one who doubts would be inwardly torn between believing God would provide and believing he would not. Such doubt would cause his whole life to be unstable like a wave driven in different directions by the wind (compare Ephesians 4:14; Mark 11:24). That kind of man has no reason to expect God to answer his prayers. James calls this man double-minded. This appears to be the first use of these words in combination and serves as a good description of one with divided thinking (James 1:6-8). (Hampton)
In demonstrating the maturity brought by patient endurance of trials, James uses the example of the poor and the rich brothers. The Christian who is poor can rejoice in his poverty because he is rich in Christ (Ephesians 1:3). The rich man in Christ should be humbled by the knowledge that all he has cannot buy an entrance to heaven. Instead of being independently wealthy, he is really dependent upon God for his wealth. This passage has much the same purpose as Paul’s message to the slave and the free man in 1 Corinthians 7:22.
All of us need to realize this life is as temporary as the grass and flowers of the field (James 1:9-11).
Peter quoted from Isaiah 40:6-8, when he wrote, “All flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, and its flower falls away, but the word of the Lord endures forever” (1 Peter 1:24-25).
Knowing wealth did not stop one from needing God and remembering the brevity of life, Paul directed Timothy to, “Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life (1 Timothy 6:17-19).
The wise place to lay up treasures is in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21). When one has laid his treasures in heaven, he will be “blessed.” Christians experience an inner peace, which is their joy or blessedness. It is not merely happiness which is brought on by good events around us, but an inner calm unaffected by outward events. Those who successfully overcome those trials which fall in upon them (verse 2) will receive the crown of life (James 1:12; 2 Timothy 4:6-8). In this case, life is our victory wreath. Those who continue to endure prove by their lives that they truly love God (1 John 5:3).
Church Supply Pastor and Christian columnist, Dr. Wayne M. Williams, presently resides in Athens with his wife of 39 years, Lita. For additional study notes, see the Facebook page International Sunday School Lessons.