Trials from Without (1:2-12)
2 Count it all joy, my brethren, when ye fall into various temptations, 3 knowing that the proving of your faith works endurance. vv.2-3 Faith Proved by Temptations. The first exhortation that James gives us its to accept trials with joy. These trials could be persecution for the name of Christ (as the Jewish converts knew all too well), suffering with Christ as we pass through a world under the effects of sin, or the chastening of the Lord. Joy is an unnatural response to trying circumstances. But the reason we can “count it all joy” is given in v.3; we know that trials are leading to our own spiritual growth. Does this mean that the normal experience of a believer is joy at all times? In Peter we find the other side of things; we are “in heaviness through manifold temptations”. There is a normal sadness that accompanies trials. It’s not that the believer pretends to be happy, but instead that he sees God’s hand in the trial, and thus find joy. The believer still sheds tears, but he can smile through the tears, and “count it all joy”. Having a cheerful attitude will cause is to profit from the trial. If we bear a trial with complaints, self-pity, and vexation, we will not benefit. The challenging circumstances that God sends into our lives prove the reality of our faith, and that display of faith is beautiful to God. Just as a horse trainer places a hurdle in the horse’s track to demonstrate the animal’s ability, so God gives us trials to demonstrate our faith. Peter uses the metaphor of a refiner’s fire; “the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:7). James tells us that trials produce “endurance”, the same message that Paul gives in Rom. 5:3. Tribulation or passing through trials teaches us endurance; the ability to carry on in the face of opposition, even for extended periods of time. We know how physical exercise produces physical endurance. Spiritual exercise works the same way! There are no shortcuts in the process of spiritual growth.
4 But let endurance have its perfect work, that ye may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. v.4 Surrender and Its Results. For God to achieve His aim, and for us to get the blessing He intends, we have to “let it”. This means we must surrender our will to God’s. Our will can get in the way. We don’t always have the the patience to “let endurance have its perfect work”. We often interfere in God’s work in us, and spoil the fruit of it. An impatient child pulls the carrot out of the ground prematurely, not willing to allow time for fruitful growth. If we submit to God’s will, things will go much better. Rather than desperately seek to escape the trial, we should seek to learn from it. We must remember that God is more interested in the work He is doing in us than the work He is doing through us. Sometimes we think the trials are slowing us down, even slowing us down in service to the Lord. But God has His highest priority: to conform us to the image of His Son (Rom. 8:28-29)! The confession of faith is, “As for God, his way is perfect” (Psa. 18:30). He is behind all the scenes in our lives, and moving those scenes for our good (Romans 8:28). The result of enduring trials is now given: full growth in our Christian character. Do we want to be “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing”? Then we must surrender our will to God’s, and say “not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42).
5 But if any one of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all freely and reproaches not, and it shall be given to him: v.5 Asking God for Wisdom. The provision of asking God for wisdom applies anytime we need wisdom, but it especially applies to the need for wisdom in a trial. Trials have a way of bringing us to a decision point, and this makes us feel our need of dependence. Think of making a medical decision on behalf of your young child. Rather than turn to human support for aid, we should turn first to God in trial. A wonderful truth about our God is explained. He gives wisdom to all who ask, without cost and He doesn’t scold. Even in small things, God wants us to ask Him. There are no stupid questions to God, if our attitude is right (v.6). Asking God for wisdom doesn’t make Him angry (e.g. on the contrary, Isa. 7:11-13). God’s heart is toward us (Luke 18:1-8). He is a giving God! How does this wisdom come to us when we ask? Answers to prayer can come to us via the light of scripture, changing circumstances, a prophetic word from someone, or the inner witness of the Spirit. But we can be assured that “it shall be given to him” that asks, according to God’s perfect time and in His perfect way.
Temptations from Within (1:13-18)
16 Do not err, my beloved brethren.17 Every good gift and every perfect gift comes down from above, from the Father of lights, with whom is no variation nor shadow of turning. vv.16-17 Where Good Gifts Come From. The error that is warned of is of thinking that giving in to lust will bring satisfaction. No, says James, only what comes to us from the hand of God is for our good and blessing. The devil is constantly seeking to get us to lose our confidence in the goodness of God (e.g. Gen. 3:1), and if we do this we will fall into temptation. To reach out in self will and fulfill our lusts will only bring us destruction and death. Man does not have the wisdom or power to make himself happy. The knowledge that “every good gift and every perfect gift comes down from above” ought to make us content to remain in dependence on God, and this fact kept before our souls will preserve us in times of temptation. He is called “the Father of lights, with whom is no variation nor shadow of turning”. This name communicates the idea of unchanging goodness, and perfect consistency with Himself. God is light, there is no darkness at all in Him (1 John 1:5). How could the Father of Lights tempt us with evil? Even the sun, as steady as it is, experiences variations (eclipses) and casts shadows as the earth turns. Not so with our God. His goodness is perfect, His knowledge is perfect, and He is unchanging in His character. There is no need that we might have that God cannot meet according to His own goodness (Phil. 4:19).
18 According to his own will begat he us by the word of truth, that we should be a certain first-fruits of “his” creatures. v.18 God’s Will In New Birth. As an example of the perfect goodness of God James points to the truth of new birth. At the very beginning, it wasn’t by man’s will or strength that we were given new birth, but “according to his own will begat he us”. It was an act of pure goodness and grace. We have a similar thought in John 1:12-13. Further, the “word of truth” is involved in new birth (Jn. 3:5; 1 Pet. 1:23). It is a sovereign action of God, using a power altogether outside of man. The word He used to beget us is “of truth”; consistent with who He is. God’s purpose in quickening us or causing us to be born again is to have us for a special possession, like the first-fruits that Israel would offer to Jehovah. We as the first-fruits are to be the display to this world of God’s character. Of all His creatures, we are to represent Him. In vv.19-20 we have a description of what the first-fruits ought to be like. But here we find that what God has done for us at the very start, to give us life, it characteristic of His heart and ways with us throughout our pathway.
New birth or quickening refers to the sovereign action of God to impart spiritual life to a person where there was none before. The expression "born anew" does not merely mean "a fresh start". Nicodemus contemplated entering into his mother’s womb to be born a second time (John 3:4). If that were possible, the rebirth would only result in another fallen human life, no different than the one he had. Rather, new birth is "new" in that it comes from a wholly new and different origin. It is life from God. The new life has a new nature with new desires. A person without new birth has one nature: a fallen human nature. A person with new birth has two natures: the old nature and a new nature (Romans 7). There is nothing but spiritual death apart from the life God gives (Eph. 2:1). The new nature has the capacity for “faith". Faith and life come together. You cannot have life without faith, and you cannot have faith without life. If someone has faith, it is because they are born again. New birth or quickening takes place by the water of the Word and the Spirit of God (John 3:5; Jam. 1:18; 1 Pet. 1:23). New birth is not accomplished through human will or effort (John 1:13). It is the sovereign grace of God to quicken a dead sinner!Read more…
Receiving and Responding to the Word of God (1:19-27)
- Verses 9-11 are parenthetical; The new man belongs to the new creation; he is its first-fruits, but he nevertheless finds himself down here in a world, the glory of which passes away as the flower of the grass. Thus the brother of low degree is exalted to have fellowship with Christ, and to share His glory. However humble he may be, he becomes, even in this world, the companion of all the brethren. “God hath chosen the poor of this world, rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him.” The rich own them as brethren, and they meet together at the Lord’s table, as possessors of the same privileges. On the other hand the rich man, if he is faithful, cannot walk in worldly grandeur, in the pride and vanity of a world which has rejected the Lord. He makes himself – God has made him – the brother of the poor man who loves the Lord. They enjoy the communion of the Spirit together, and share the most precious and intimate things of life. They rejoice together; the poor man in his exaltation – Christ is not ashamed to call such ‘brethren’ – and the rich man glories in that title much more than in all those that belong to him in the world. That title is despised in the world, and counted for nothing; but he knows that the glory of this world passes away as the flower of the grass, and he rejoices in being the companion of those whom the Lord of glory owns as His. The world will pass away, and the spirit of the world is already passed from the heart of the spiritual Christian. He who takes the lowest place shall be great in the kingdom of God. – Darby, J.N. A Brief Exposition of the Epistle of James.
- “…we are told to receive as an accomplished act…” – Kelly, W. The Epistle of James.
- “It is in contrast with a merely external rule that could only condemn what was opposed to itself. It works inwardly in that life which the believer has, being perfectly akin to it and congenial with it, as both are of God.” – Kelly, W. The Epistle of James.
- Anstey, B. The Epistle of James.