James 1. 1-12

In his Epistle, James is mainly concerned with practical issues, as can be seen from the section before us. In the first twelve verses of his letter he provides encouragement for believers as they pass through various trials. It should be noted that the word rendered “temptations” in the Authorised Version is better translated “trials”. Trials are often varied in nature, as can be seen by the use of the adjective “divers”, v. 2. It is good to see that the apostle Peter, who wrote to Christians facing similar circumstances, could speak not only of “manifold temptations” but also of “manifold grace”, 1 Pet. 1. 6; 4. 10. This is, the Lord supplies sufficient grace to counteract the believer’s adverse circumstances.

Why, we may well wonder, are believers allowed to suffer? The answer given by James is that the trying (testing, approving) of their faith serves to bring out patience (endurance) in their lives. Faith which has never been tried is of less value than faith which has passed through the fire by which it is refined of its dross. Trials then, James says, have a purifying effect and lead to completeness in all areas of Christian life, James 1. 3-4. In the following verses, vv. 5-12, he explains how the beneficial effects of trials are achieved. The process is threefold:

  1. Prayer, vv. 5-8. The Christian must ask God for the necessary wisdom to guide him. God bestows liberally, and wholeheartedly, so we need not be fearful in asking. He does not “upbraid”, that is, reproach. A person may ask a favour of a friend and be granted it, but if he asks too often he may be rebuked. God never does that! Nevertheless, the Christian must go on asking in faith, or he is as unstable as the wind-tossed waves of the sea. See Genesis 49. 4 and 2 Samuel 14. 14 for other scriptural allusions to the instability of water.
  2. Providence, vv. 9-11. In terms of Christian blessings, rich and poor are on an equal footing; cf. 1 Cor. 1. 26-29; James 2. 5. Earthly riches are temporary only; cf. 2 Cor. 4. 18; 1 John 2. 15-16. The rich man shall “fade away in his ways”, James 1. 11. The word translated “ways” is literally “goings” or “journeyings”. This is particularly relevant in the light of 4. 13, where the related verb is translated “we will go”.
  3. Promise, v. 12. He that endures the testing is “blessed” or “happy”. This blessedness relates to the believer’s steadfastness and endurance: in Psalm 32. 1 it relates to his salvation. The reward is one of the crowns or victor’s wreaths promised to the Christian; cf. 1 Thess. 2. 19; 2 Tim. 4. 8; 1 Pet. 5. 4; Rev. 2. 10. This crown is for those who love Him; see James 2. 5.

When Jacob’s circumstances seemed hopeless to him he said, “All these things are against me”, Gen. 42. 36. We know that all his seemingly adverse circumstances eventually turned out for his good. Let us rather say with the apostle Paul, “We know that all things work together for good to them that’ love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose”, Rom. 8. 28.

(To be continued)