It stood out to me, as we move into the section of this study where we bounce back and forth between James and Romans, that we go from last time talking about God’s continued faithfulness despite appearances to James’ discussion of Christians standing firm in the midst of trials and temptations. James hints at this idea in this passage, and we will see how shortly. So, let’s start digging in to James as we prepare to deal with one of the biggest tensions in all of the New Testament.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. (James 1:2-3 ESV)
James begins by urging the reader to cound it “all joy” when we meet the various trials of faith. That’s interesting because that is not usually how this is read to us at all. Normally, when our teachers come to this passage, we hear about how we need to consider it a joy to deal with hard times in life, but that is not what James is speaking of. He is speaking of the trials of life that test our faith. Although the hard times of life can test our faith, they don’t always. Sometimes crummy stuff happens and it has no effect on us. It takes a special kind of hard time to bring us to a crisis of faith.
But we all get there at one time or another and in one manner or another. Those times will come, and when our faith is tested, we must count it a joy and face the trial head-on, knowing that our faith will be stronger on the other side. And with this stronger faith comes a stronger ability to withstand the next faith crisis that presents itself.
And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (v. 4)
To “let steadfastness have its full effect” essentially means to let it effect how you face a crisis of faith. It’s another way of saying, “Be strong.” Why? So that you “may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
Let me pause for a moment and make an observation. In contrast to the manner in which Paul writes, James is much more straightforward. Unlike Paul, James says what he needs to say in as few words as possible and gets out of the way. Paul has a tendency to be a little wordy and tell a lot of stories and generally chase a lot of rabbits along the way to his final destination. Paul is much like our seasoned pastors on Easter or Christmas when they feel they have to give that powerhouse sermon no matter what the cost. James, on the other hand, is more like when the youth pastor gives the Sunday message and it lasts 10 to 15 minutes and it’s over before you’ve had a chance to even take it all in. This doesn’t mean James is preferable to Romans or vice versa. It just means that they have a different style of presenting their material. James just happens to be much more concise, which means it doesn’t take as much deconstruction for it to make sense.
Back to the text.
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (vv. 5-8)
James goes on to exhort his listeners to ask for God’s wisdom. Later in the letter, James will expound on what this means. For now, it is only necessary to know that we should ask God for wisdom because He is generous and won’t get mad at us if we are unable to decide something for ourselves…with one caveat.
We must ask for wisdom in faith, “with no doubting.” As we struggle through our faith crises, we must remain steadfast and ask God for wisdom. We must allow the truth that He will give it to us to be an encouragement that what our faith rests in is real and true. Otherwise, we may misinterpret something as wisdom that is really not wisdom at all and be lead astray.
Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits. (vv. 9-11)
One of the big themes of James is not showing partiality. In sort of an allusion to Ecclesiastes, James makes clear that, rich or poor, all will come to the same fate. But in doing so, James also creates a bit of a tension. The poor brother is exalted and the rich is humiliated because they will die. The poor brother is exalted because he loses nothing at death, whereas the rich brother loses all, for, as the saying goes, “You can’t take it with you.”
So are the poor really better off than the rich? At first glance, it would seem so. The reality is, though, no. Both die in the end, so both are on equal footing in the eyes of God.
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. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. (vv. 12-15)
James begins this section with another word of encouragement to those facing crises of faith and then moves on into another kind of struggle: Temptation.
One of the biggest temptations, especially in our day, is to sort of blame God for our temptations. We say that God is testing us. The reality is, though, God doesn’t tempt us. He may be in sovereign control of all things, even Satan, but God is not the one doing the tempting. Why? Because God doesn’t find evil enticing, so He doesn’t try to entice others with it. Rather, our temptation comes when we desire something that we cannot have. It seems that James sees the root sin as covetousness rather than idolatry.
But, like Paul, James gives a progression that begins with the first enticement to sin. In James case, it is desiring something. We covet something so we do something to get it, which usually means, in some way, denying God’s faithfulness to provide. But we do it once, we do it again and again and eventually we are killed by that which we thought would bring us life. So, in reality, the root sin for James is still idolatry, James just seems to be playing to an issue probably felt by the members of his congregation.
Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. (vv 16-18)
James closes this out with a word of encouragement. That is one thing about James that is much different from Romans. James bounces back and forth between exhortation and encouragement. He points out sin and then encourages them that God is still faithful despite their sin. He does the same here.
After telling the people that their covetousness will lead to their death, he encourages them to remember that God will provide what they want because God is faithful and never changes. He then reminds them of where they came from. He reminds them of Egypt, he is writing to Jews after all, and that God brought them all out by his word so that they could be set apart from the rest of the world as His people called to bring His blessing to the whole world.