James 1:1-12

Sermon: September 9, 2018

A Word on the Book of James

We will be studying the book of James this fall.  I am looking forward to preaching through this very practical book.  James is a short book containing just 108 verses.  And of those 108 verses 61 are imperatives.  This is a book very much concerned with what we do!  The title I’ve given this series is “Real Faith. Real Life.”  James is about helping us work out our faith in the midst of our messy lives.

If you aren’t already in a Home Group, I hope that you will consider joining one at least for the fall.  This will be a more enriching experience to do in community with others!

How to Endure Trials:  James 1:1-12


Opening Verse

James, servant of God and of the Lord Jesus ChristTo the twelve tribes in the DispersionGreetings.  James 1:1

James, which is a form of the Old Testament name Jacob, was a common name among first century Jews.  The New Testament records four men who bore the name James:

  1. James the Son of Zebedee: fisherman who was called be follow Jesus along with his brother John (c.f. Mark 1:19-20); he along with his brother John and Peter became the three closest apostles to Jesus (c.f. Mark 5:37, 9:2, 10:35, 14:33); martyred in AD 44 (c.f. Acts 12:2)
  2. James the Son of Alphaeus: one of the twelve apostles and mentioned only in the lists of apostles (c.f. Matthew 10:3, Mark 3:18, Luke 6:15) though he might be the same person as “James the Younger” (c.f. Mark 15:40, Matthew 27:56)
  3. James the father of Judas: this Judas (as distinguished from Judas Iscariot) is listed as one of the twelve apostles (c.f. Luke 6:16) and perhaps is the same person identified as Thaddaeus in Matthew 10:3 and Mark 3:18
  4. James, the Lord’s brother: or perhaps more accurately, Jesus’ half-brother; also known as James the Just; he did not believe in Jesus during his earthly ministry (c.f. John 7:5; Mark 3:21) but became a prominent leader in the early church in Jerusalem (c.f. Galatians 1:19 and Acts 12:17); exercised significant leadership in Jerusalem Council (c.f. Acts 15:13-21); (see also Acts 21:18 & Galatians 2:9); Eusebius (Church History, 23and Josephus (Antiquites XX.9.1) both record that James was stoned by the scribes and Pharisees for refusing to renounce his commitment to Jesus (dated AD 62)

Of these four possibilities it is the general consensus of Biblical scholars that James, the younger brother of Jesus, is the author of this book.  If this is the case, and I believe it is, it is very interesting that James introduces himself in this letter in such a humble way, as a servant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ. Apparently, he counted of greater value that he was a servant of the Lord Jesus rather than the brother of Jesus.  It is not his natural birth but his spiritual birth that really matters.

How to Endure Trials

After a very brief greeting, James gets right to it beginning with encouragement on what to do when we meet trials of various kinds (v.2).  He speaks generally about these trials avoiding specifics but later in the letter we will discover the people to whom he is writing are facing poverty, injustice, conflict, sickness and grief.  So how should someone endure these trials?  We’ll focus on three things James tells us to do.

#1 We must think rightly about our trials (v.2-4).

We are told to count it all joy (v. 2) when we face trials.  James isn’t telling us how to feel about trials but how to think about them.  We are to count, or as some translations put it consider, them a source of joy.  Now suffering in itself is not a good thing, but what God does with our suffering is a good thing.  This is why we can count trials as all joy.  And what does God do with the trials that we encounter?  They are used for the testing of your faith (v.3) which in the end produces steadfastness (v.3). The result of steadfastness is that we are made to be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (v.4). So suffering is used by God to mature us and make us more like Christ.  This is something we should all eagerly desire.

I’ve heard people teach that suffering is the only means by which we are shaped into the image of Christ.  As a matter of fact, one of the James commentaries I picked up for this sermon series, which is an otherwise excellent resource makes this case.  He writes: “The only way the Lord can develop patience and character in our lives is through trials (Be Mature: Growing Up in Christ, Warren Wiersbe, p.35).”  I must disagree.  The Lord uses many things to form and fashion our character.  Certainly he uses suffering and trials in our life, but praise God he is not limited to these things!

Thinking about our trials rightly means that we know that none of us will escape trials in this life.  This is why James says when you meet trials, not if you meet trials. We will face suffering.  Jesus tells us this plainly in John 16:33 “In the world you will have tribulation.”

#2 We must go to God for help (v.5-8).

If we have difficulty wrapping our minds around what James has just said about thinking rightly about our suffering, he tells us to go to God for help.  If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him (v.5). We need wisdom to navigate our way through the trials we face.  This is a significant promise we can count on.  Our heavenly Father loves to give good gifts to his children (Matthew 7:11), and he will give us all the wisdom we need, if we ask him. And we need not worry about wearing God out with our repeated requests for wisdom.  John Calvin explains why we are told that God gives without reproach:

This is added, lest any one should fear to come too often to God. Those who are the most liberal among men, when any one asks often to be helped, mention their formal acts of kindness, and thus excuse themselves for the future. Hence, a mortal man, however open-handed he may be, we are ashamed to weary by asking too often. But James reminds us, that there is nothing like this in God; for he is ready ever to add new blessings to former ones, without any end or limitation.  (James Commentary [online],  John Calvin)

As we grow in our dependence on God, we learn to come to him more and more.  How we approach God in prayer is important.  This is why James tells us to ask in faith, with no doubting (v.6).  In this context doubt is not about having questions for God or even having mixed feelings as we come to him in prayer.  Doubt is presented here as the opposite of faith which is about commitment.  He portrays the doubting person as one who is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind (v.6).  The doubter is double-minded man, unstable in all his ways (v.7).  Again, doubt here isn’t about having questions — it’s about not being committed to God:  Asking God for help but at the same time looking over your shoulder for what other help you might find.  Seeking divine wisdom but seeking worldly wisdom as well.  A double-minded man is a divided man trying to go in two different directions at once.  I tried that once on the ski slopes. One ski wanted to go to the right and the other to the left.  It wasn’t pretty and I haven’t been skiing much since!

#3 We must learn to see beyond our present circumstances (v.9-12).

In this section James presents two classes of people: the rich and the poor.  Some Bible commentators including a few early church fathers such as Hilary of Arles, Bede, and Oecumenis teach that James is here contrasting between Christians (the poor) and non-Christians (the rich).  I am not convinced that this division is necessary.

As James continues to think about the trials we face he speaks first to the lowly brother who should boast in his exaltation (v.9).  In the midst of his poverty, this brother (or sister) should remind himself that though he is poor in the eyes of the world yet he is rich in what really matters.  God has exalted him in Christ, not because of his poverty, but because of his faith in Christ.  He has been born again and has an eternal home that far outshines any trial he will face in this life.

James then address the rich who should boast in his humiliation (v.9).  The world assumes that the rich are blessed by God but this is not the case.  Sam Allberry helpfully puts it this way:

For the rich Christian, no matter how much wealth they have and how great their standing is in the eyes of the world, the gospel is deeply and irreversibly humbling.  They have had to acknowledge before God that however rich they are materially, they are utterly bankrupt spiritually…Spiritually, they have what they have because God has shown them grace.  They needed a spiritual handout.  They’ve come to God for charity. (James for You, p.28-29).

And so the rich rejoice that they have not been blinded by their material possessions but have come to see their spiritual need.  We are reminded of the fleeting nature of the world’s riches: the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes (v.11). As Paul tells us, “the present form of this world is passing away (1 Corinthians 7:31).”  Just ask he world is passing away, so will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits (v.11). 

We must learn to look beyond our present circumstances whether we are rich or poor and see what really matters.  We must see the charms of this world for what they really are: temporary.  We must see our trials and suffering for what they really are: temporary.

James concludes this section on trials in this way: Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him (v.12).

The best is yet to come.  We remain steadfast as we endure various trials, knowing that if we endure we will receive the crown of life.  Let us live for this!

Discussion Questions

  1. What do we learn from verse 1 about the author of the book?  If the author of this book is indeed James, the little brother of Jesus, what makes this greeting so significant?
  2. How do you tend to respond when you are confronted with a trial?  Do you try to ignore it?  Put your head down and keep going?  Fall into despair?  Become angry? Blame yourself?  Blame others?
  3. Why does James tell us to count our trials as “all joy?”  What reasons does he provide in the passage to give us joy in our trials?
  4. What do you think keeps you from adopting this way of thinking about your trials?
  5. What promise is given in verse 5?  Why does James say that God gives “without reproach?”
  6. In what situations of your life do you need to ask God for wisdom?
  7. In what way are faith and doubt opposites?  Explain the metaphors James uses to describe the person who doubts.
  8. How would you help someone who was struggling with doubt?
  9. How do verses 9 to 12 encourage us to see beyond our present circumstances?  How is this an encouragement in the midst of various trials?
  10. What is one thing you will put into action as a result of studying this passage?


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