For the next few Saturdays I am going to be republishing a devotional study I did on the Book of James. I am going to try to cover an entire chapter’s worth of Devotionals, so these may be somewhat longish, but I hope readers enjoy them and find them useful
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting. My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.
Count It All Joy
Starting today, we are going to spend a little time in the Book of James. It’s such a great one. The Book of James is where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. It’s as close to a handbook for Christian living as a person can get really.
In Verse 1, James had made reference to the “12 tribes which are scattered abroad.” Due to persecution, Jews from Jerusalem had been scattered abroad were were still suffering hardship and trials. In most cases, they were suffering because of their faith. James was writing to them to offer guidance on handling these trials and also to provide them with some guidelines to help them determine the authenticity of their faith.
So, right from the beginning, James jumps right to explain the inevitability of trials and the purposes for them. That’s where we will start also.
“Count” it all joy. Simply put, this is to consider, think about or look upon our temptations, or trials, in a particular way. James is telling us to look at them a particular way because our human nature would not be to look at them that way.
What is that way? With joy. All joy. James is not referring to a gritting your teeth and endure it with a smile joy here; he is talking about the kind of joy we can consider trials with if we truly understand the God has a purpose for them in our lives.
James tells us to count it all joy “when” we fall into temptations, or trials. The word temptation here is synonymous with trial; it’s not referring to temptation to sin here. James is warning us that trials will come, even for and perhaps particularly for, believers.
Divers temptations. Diverse trials, various and sundry trials, trials of many different sorts. My trials will not be your trials. We will all face our own.
James has laid the ground work here in terms of the fact that Christians can expect difficulties and trials. We are, however, to approach and deal with them the way God wants us to, with joy. Perhaps if we understand some of the purposes God has for trials in our lives, we would be better able to consider them with all joy.
Why Be Joyful?
We already know that James was inspired by the Holy Spirit to instruct us to react to our trials with joy. We are to be glad we are being tempted, or tried, rather than sad or upset over them. Why?
The simple answer is that we need to consider trials not from our standpoint, but from God’s standpoint. Of course, that is usually where we fail in most areas, when we fail to consider things from God’s viewpoint.
The trying of our faith “worketh patience.” We have all heard the old saying about being careful about praying for God to give us patience I am sure. Why is that? Because He won’t just give it to us; He will teach it to us.
“Let patience have her perfect work.” In other words, go with the flow so to speak. We need not fight, resist or rebel against the trial in our lives. Remember counting it all joy?
Now we come to the why part of things. We are given trials, in some cases, so that we may become “perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” Does this mean that we will become the picture of sinless perfection or be given all of the things we want. Well, I am afraid not.
That simply means that our trials will cause us to become mature in our Christian lives. To be perfect and entire here means simply we will become more grown up Christians, more suited to the work God wants us to do.
As we discussed earlier, we probably want to be careful about asking God to grant us patience. He is not going to deliver patience to us on a silver platter; He is going to teach it to us. How will He teach it to us? With trials, of course.
What then might be some specific reasons God may place trials in our paths? How can they help us develop patience and grow in Christian Maturity?
Trials test our faith. It’s easy to be thankful and grateful to God when things are going our way; it is a test of our true belief and trust in God if we remain thankful and grateful when things are not going our way.
Trials may humble us. We all know God considers meekness and humility to be virtues; yet sometimes we can become so assured and confident concerning our successes that we lose these traits. That is even true, maybe especially true, for how we react towards our successes doing God’s work in His church. God may knock us down a rung or two to humble us.
God may place trials in our lives to tear us away from things of the world and love for the world. I know a man who, when a friend of his would go fishing instead of going to church, would pray that he had a bad day fishing. If there is something we allow to stand in the way of what God wants us to be doing, He might just take it from us.
God may place trials in our way to teach us how to be able to provide solace and comfort to other believers. It’s much easier to feel kindness and empathy towards the trials of others if you have experienced trials of your own. It’s easier to comfort another’s affliction if you have suffered the same affliction.
There are many reasons we may be tested and tried by God. Of course, the ones above are not all inclusive. In fact, we may never know why a particular trial has been place into our lives. God can reveal it to us, or He cannot; sometimes He will and sometimes He won’t.
What matters is we understand that, if a trial is placed in our path, that God is in charge and has some goal in mind. Not only will he have some goal in His mind, but it will be the best one.
If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways. Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted: But the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away. For the sun is no sooner risen with a burning heat, but it withereth the grass, and the flower thereof falleth, and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth: so also shall the rich man fade away in his ways. Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.
Ask For Wisdom
Here we continue on with James’ instructions on how we are to deal with trials in our lives. This verse is directly linked to the previous one; it is our instruction on where to go to deal with our trials.
Wisdom is often thought of as simply knowledge; that is an incorrect definition. Simply put, knowledge is knowing things or facts; wisdom is the ability to take things or facts and put them into practical application for useful daily living.
James is implying that we will need guidance to deal with the issues we face; we will certainly lack wisdom. “Let him” is perhaps misleading when we read it. In plain English, this passage is telling us to ask God for guidance when we have trials; it is really a command.
God will never chastise us for seeking His wisdom. God is a fair God. Since we believe that God either causes or allows all things in our lives, whether good or bad, then of course He would never chastise us for looking to Him for solutions. In fact, that is what He wants us to do!
“It shall be given him.” Does that mean God will provide whatever solution we ask Him to provide? Of course not. God may not even enlighten us as to why something is occurring. What might be the only thing given? It might simply be sufficient grace to make it through a trial.
To sum up, when we have trials and we prayerfully seek God’s wisdom to guide us through it, then He will provide us with the answer we need.
Pray Without Wavering
We have learned that trials will come; we have learned why they come and we have learned the proper response to them, prayer. But the way in which and the heart with which we pray matter greatly.
God is not just some cosmic candy dispenser so we can put in a coin of prayer and get an answer dropped out in the palm of our hand. The Bible is simply full of examples of how we should pray, and James gives us yet more guidance here.
James tells us we should pray with faith. Do we really expect an answer when we pray, or are we just punching a prayer ticket? Do we really, truly believe that God is willing and able to solve our problem? We are to pray with faith, “nothing wavering” that is, we should pray with no doubt that God can and will solve our problem.
James compares a doubting prayer to a storm tossed sea. This implies instability, which James goes on clearly to say is just what a doubting or double minded man is. The issue seems to be here a question of just who are we depending on to solve our problem. Do we depend on the world to get us through our issues, or do we depend on God? Is God the place we go first or is He our last resort?
We never know what God has planned for us, or how He intends to get us through a particular thing. If we want to receive that blessing and help He offers, we have to approach Him without doubt, not wavering and with single mindedness of purpose. If we don’t, then what will we get? James tells us that we should expect nothing of The Lord.
Faith In God Not Wealth
We need to say right away that James is not making any links between Godliness and poverty, or that a rich person cannot be Godly. The Bible never teaches us that you have to be poor to be a Godly, believing person.
James was, however, writing to people who were mostly suffering financially due to their circumstances; who were even being harassed and persecuted by those with wealth. James’ intent to to teach us that wealth is not what we should depend on, or the things of this world; what we are to depend on is the provision of God.
Here James is issuing reminders to both poor and rich brothers and sisters in Christ.
His reminder to the poor is that his poverty is a material one only, and that in the eyes and sight of God he has just an exalted position as a rich man in this world. The world and men may have tossed the poor brother aside, but God has welcomed him with open arms. His lot here on Earth may not seem pleasant, but he has an eternal inheritance to look forward to.
James also issues a reminder to the rich brother that, even though he may be wealthy, he should rejoice even in his trials because they show him the temporary nature of his wealth and the permanent nature of what God provides.
Finally, by comparing wealth to withering grass which fades away, James reminds us all that what we may have here is just transitory, but our riches in God’s Kingdom are eternal and secure. This is a reminder that rich or poor, we are all equals by faith in Christ.
Endure For a Crown
Here, James is wrapping up his discourse on trials for the time being. After this, he takes off in another direction which we will explore later. At this point, the use of the word “temptation” is still referring to the idea of trials or testings; he will, as we will see, later change to a differing use of the word.
The crown referred to here is a crown such as the victor in an athletic contest would win for his feats of athletics. So, what is James telling us here? First, let’s discuss what he is NOT telling us.
In light of the overall context of this passage, it is clear James is not telling us that eternal life, or a crown of life or salvation is the reward for enduring the tests and trials of life. James was speaking to people who were already believers. So, we do not earn our salvation by enduring.
On the other hand, endurance of life’s tests and trial is clear evidence of our salvation and relationship with God. The worldly man is likely to cave in and be defeated by these tests, but the man of God has the power of the Holy Spirit in him to persevere and endure them.
However, even among believers, not all will truly show this evidence of their relationship with God. Even believers can cave in and become defeated. James is simply teaching us that there is a special reward on the future for those who trust in God through whatever life may toss at them.
Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. Do not err, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.
God Does NOT Tempt Us With Sin
Now James moves on to a different use of the word which was translated temptation. Here, James IS referring to temptation to sin; he is no longer discussing the tests and trials of life. James has made a transition from temptation, or trials, as a noun to the use of temptations, or sin, as a verb. He is talking about the act of sin.
The discussion of the origin of sin and evil in the world could be, and has been, written about in volumes. We aren’t going that deep here.
Clearly God allows and even causes things to be placed into our lives that will test and grow our faith; we have talked about that up to this point. This is not true of temptation to sin. God Himself cannot, of course violate His own Law; nor can He even entertain the thought of doing something out of His nature. In the same vein, God will never place temptations to sin and perform evil into our paths as a way to test and refine us. That is what we are being taught here.
Although God did not create, and is not responsible for sin, He did create us with free will. It did not take man long to exercise his free will and blow it. Even then, nobody wanted to assume responsibility for what they had done. Eve blamed the serpent; Adam blamed Eve and Adam even blamed God.
James is simply teaching us that our sin, and our actions, are our responsibility. Jesus saves us,and forgives us, but we are responsible for the things we do.
The Path Of Sin
Whose problem is sin? Well, it’s ours. Note what James says…our own lust. Lust here is not referring to sexual lust necessarily, just all the things we desire for. God did, in fact, create us all to seek certain things. Sexual desire is one of those things. God created men to seek certain things: success, to be good at what we do. Inside of all of us are things God planted so we could use them in attaining His purposes. The fact that they exist is not wrong. The wrongness comes in our application of them.
So, God does not tempt us with sin. Even though Satan tempts us, he does not cause it, either. He does use our own desires, which we all have, to entice us to use them wrongly and sinfully. That is the enticement part, we are enticed to take our God given desires and point them the wrong way.
Having a desire, and even being enticed to head the wrong way, is not wrong necessarily either. Anybody reading not been tempted to sin or do wrong? I didn’t think so! So, what happens? Lust conceives; that is we come to some point where we think it is okay. And once the sin has conceived, that same thing happens with any conception: a birth. In this case, a sin is born.
Sadly, sin has consequences. When sin is finished, it brings forth death. One form is certainly physical death; sin is what brought that into the world and the death rate remains 100%. It also brought spiritual death, in the form of eternal separation from God.
But, God loves us. We will all physically die, but we need not all eternally die.
What’s Better Than Sin?
Here seems to be a description of why we would no longer wish to sin. James is just full of practical wisdom in his book. We have covered how we should react to trials, how we should react to temptations and now we briefly discuss why NOT to sin. James gives us some great advice here.
Do not err. Are we reborn and made instantly sinless? Of course not! But the question arises concerning our motivation. Christians have been heard to say, “Since I was saved, I sin all I want to!”. The response to the no doubt surprised gasp of listeners is simply, “But, I don’t want to.”
Once we are saved, what is one our primary motivations to not sin? Well, God’s way is better; that is why. His way is better because of His gifts. Recall Adam and Eve? Satan’s basic tactic was to convince Eve that God was some cosmic killjoy, out to ruin all of Eve’s fun. It worked, and the rest is history.
God’s gifts are better than our sin. What God has planned for us is better, and the way He gives it all to us is better as well. The good gifts and the perfect gifts are from above; they are from God. There is no turning, no variableness from God; his constant is the never ending goodness of His plan for us.
God willed that, through His Word, we be saved; He has desired that we become His “Firstfruits,” or His handiwork.
Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.1 Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls. But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed. If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
Doers Not Just Hearers
James lays out two essentials here, really. Even thought James appears to be speaking to believers here, he issues a reminder of what the first essential thing is; we must all be born again.
We are begat,or caused to be born, by the Word of God. It is the Word of God which convicts us as sinners and reveals to us the Savior, Jesus Christ. We are saved by faith, and faith comes from hearing the Word of God(Romans 10:17)
James is far from done here, however; he has really just begun. James was not writing a deep theological dissertation about salvation; ever practical, he just states the necessity of salvation as a fact.
Here is essential two; not only do we have to receive the Word, but we have to be doers of The Word. Being born again means The Word will not only save us; it will change us. We must not just be hearers of The Word, but doers of The Word.
If we hear The Word and no action results, James tells us we, in fact, may be deceiving ourselves.
Looking In the Mirror
Why do we look in a mirror? Usually to check and see if we look okay, to see if all is in order with the way that we look. Don’t we also do more than just look? If we look into that mirror and find things which are wrong, we normally take action to repair them, correct?
If a person looked into a mirror and saw that they were just totally messed up and just said, “okay, cool” and walked away then what was the point of even looking in the first place?
God’s Word is like that. When we read it, it becomes our mirror to show us if we are in order or if we are in disarray. It provides us with a reflection of our conduct and if our conduct is what God would like to see in our lives. We learn this clearly in Galatians 3:24. The Law never saves us; it just teaches us where we are failing. The Law is our mirror.
If all we do is look in a mirror, see what is wrong and walk away what have we gained? All we have gained is knowledge. “Well, I know my hair is a mess..great!” That’s absurd, really. We would never do that.
Why then, would we do that in response to God’s word? That is the lesson James is teaching us here. Just like looking in a real mirror, looking the the mirror of God’s Word should cause us to change. We should walk away from it prepared to do something, not just see that something is wrong.
He Who Looks In the Mirror and Changes
We just finished talking about the man who looks into the mirror, the mirror of God’s Word, and does nothing to fix what he sees. This is the man who either just glances at the mirror, or the one who spends time gazing intently into it; in both cases this man just wanders away without any action being taken. That man is merely a hearer but not a doer of God’s Word, deceiving himself.
There is, however, another kind of man. This is the man who looks in the mirror, sees what needs attention, and does the things the mirror tells him need to be done.
The phrase “perfect law of liberty” is an interesting one. Why does James use this phrase? One writer suggests that, because when we obey it, God sets us free. We can be set free by God’s law, or slaves of Satan’s sin. Psalm 119:45 teaches us, “And I will walk at liberty: for I seek thy precepts.” On the other hand John 8:34 says the opposite, “Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.”
The key here is that, although reading God’s Word is very important and somewhat of a blessing in and of itself, the real blessing comes from the doing of God’s Word, not simply the reading or hearing. Literally translated, the phrase from our passage actually reads, “this man shall be blessed in his doing.”
Do we even bother to look into the mirror of God’s Word? If we look, do we just glance, or do we actually take the time to see our flaws and imperfections? If we see them, do we just accept them or do we make an effort to fix, repair, and prevent them from happening again? Do we want the blessing in our doings? Then we have to be…doing.
What Is Pure Religion?
James is about to dive full force into the practical application of Christian faith in the life of the believer, and he begins his dissertation on this subject with this passage. Here, we begin to enter some territory which has been considered controversial off and on in theological disputes.
Any true believer knows that man is saved solely by the grace of God, and not by any works we have done or can do. Ephesians 2:8,9 teaches that clearly of course. But here we have James, a most Jewish of Jews and steeped lifelong in the Law of Moses, writing a letter almost totally devoted to works in the life of the believer. Some have mistakenly assumed, for instance, that James and Paul conflict in their teachings, with James teaching works, and Paul teaching grace. Of course, this is not true as we will examine later and repeatedly.
James’s reference to “religion” adds to the confusion is some ways. Religion defined simply means, “the outward practice, the service of a God.” In some other uses of the original word in the New Testament, it was translated, “worshiping.” The important thing here is to note that true, or pure, religion has nothing to do with rites, sacraments, rituals or holy days; it means practicing God’s Word through our speech, service and separation from the world.
So, as we progress through the remainder of the Book of James, understand that James is in no way saying that the things we do will ever save us, but rather that the the things we do should be a natural result of the fact that we are saved.
Three Things To Do
Well, here we go. James is about to jump full force into the remainder of his epistle, and give us just tons of good, practical ways to display the evidence of true, saving Christian faith. These three instructions, as we will see, are not all the things James want to teach us; they do provide a good starting point, however.
We must control our speech. James talks quite a bit later about controlling our tongues. According to one writer, we spend up to one fifth of our lives talking; it is easy to see the influence our speech can have on our lives and the lives of the people around us. What we say is a reflection of what is truly in our hearts. We can learn this clearly in Matthew 12:34,37 , “A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things.”; “For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.”
We must serve. The reference to visiting widow and orphans here has much more meaning that just popping in on these folks to see how they are doing. The greek word used apparently is from the same root where we get our term “overseer,” or “bishop.” This direction carries the strong idea of caring for others and helping then in any way which might be needed. It is more active and continuous than just dropping in to say hello.
Finally, we must separate ourselves from the world. Not remove ourselves, separate our selves. We are still commanded to go forth in the world and evangelize it, just not to become tainted or stained by it. John 16:11-16 teaches us the idea of the disciples being in the world but not of the world.