Today we begin our passage by passage study of the book of James. We’re going to take small bites so they’ll be easy to digest. Here’s the passage we’ll consider today:
Jam. 1:1-4 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting. (2) My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; (3) Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. (4) But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.
We briefly discussed the identity of James on day two of our study. I think it’s interesting that James uses no title other than a servant of God. He wasn’t concerned with who he was, but who they were and how he could help them. James was the pastor of the church at Jerusalem.
Twelve Tribes Scattered Abroad
James was writing to his scattered flock. These were the Jewish converts to Christianity who were dispersed because of Saul’s persecution.
Act. 8:1-4 And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles. (2) And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. (3) As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison. (4) Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word.
This was a difficult time to be a Christian in Jerusalem. What would your life be like if you had to worry about being arrested every time you went to church? Those believers weren’t just fined, they were jailed and killed. Here’s how Paul described it:
Act. 26:9-11 I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. (10) Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them. (11) And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities.
As a result, many of these Jewish converts left Jerusalem for friendlier regions. Some, no doubt, had lost friends or family members to the persecution. They left homes, work, and a great church with thousands of members. They were starting over again in new communities. These people had their hands full.
Count It All Joy
I love the way James gets right down to business. He rolls up his sleeves and begins addressing the needs of hurting people. His first order of business is to help them know how to respond to trials.
He doesn’t begin with, “I feel bad for you poor folks.” If James believed that God was no longer taking care of his readers, then he would have felt sorry for them. If he believed that the enemy outsmarted or overpowered God, then there would have been reason for sadness. But James begins this letter with a note of triumph. Count it all joy!
Count it all joy when you’re surrounded by all sorts of tests. (The word picture here is of someone who fell into a pit and is surrounded on all sides.) Count it all joy when you faith is tried. James isn’t the only one to say this in the Bible. Here are some similar passages:
Luk. 6:22-23 Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man’s sake. (23) Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy: for, behold, your reward is great in heaven: for in the like manner did their fathers unto the prophets.
1Pe 4:12-16 Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: (13) But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. (14) If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified. (15) But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters. (16) Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.
It sounds like God is serious about us responding to hardships with joy. Is this just putting on a happy face, being brave, or are there real reasons to have joy?
Trials Produce Patience
One reason to rejoice in trials is that God has a purpose for them. “The trying of your faith,” James says, “worketh patience.” Senseless suffering is hard to bear, but believers have a loving Father who only allows things to touch our lives for good.
Rom. 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
I’ve flown a few times over the years. I remember one of the first times we flew, the plane hit an air pocket. I was pretty nervous right after the plain dropped and shook. Most of the people around me didn’t seem upset. They kept reading their books, reclining with their eyes closed, conversing with other folks. They were frequent flyers and they knew that this was often part of the process. In the same way, patience keeps you on board so you can reach the destination God has in mind for you.
The Perfect Work of Patience
You might be thinking, “Big deal. I get to learn patience so I can endure more stuff I don’t want to deal with. How does that help me?” Patience isn’t the goal – patience lets you reach the goal. You’ve got to “let patience have her perfect work.”
What would have happen if I got off the plane at my first layover? Where would I have been if I said, “This is nuts. I’m not going to have the bottom drop out again. Next time it might be fatal.” I wouldn’t have reached my final destination because I didn’t have the patience to put up with the normal bumps along the way.
Your ticket says, “…perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” Are you there yet? If you bail out now, you won’t arrive there. And, in my experience, you’ll end up starting over again anyway. You either face your difficulties and get stronger, or flee from them and get weaker. When you give in to fear, your world shrinks- the walls close in on you. (Don’t you think it’s interesting that James had to write to them about how to endure trials after they fled persecution? Apparently, a change in geography didn’t lead to a change in circumstances for them.)
God’s goal is to make you like Christ. The more like Christ you are, the more impact your life will have. Trials are part of that process, and we hinder the process when we try to avoid the problems.
How’s It Going?
- Do you respond with joy when your faith is tested?
- Do you believe God has a purpose in those things He requires you to endure? Are you looking for it?
- Are you running from your problems, or growing through them?
Read James 1:5-8 and answer the following questions:
- How does God give us the wisdom we ask Him for?
- What does it mean to ask in faith?
- Why do we sometimes receive, even though we don’t ask in faith?
- What does it mean to be double minded?