James, Part 1
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes who are scattered abroad: Greetings. My brothers and sisters, when you face trials of many kinds, consider it all joy because you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.
James, half-brother of Jesus and the first pastor of the church in Jerusalem, wrote a concise “how to” book on what it means to be a Christian. His initial audience was small, just a ragtag group of believers who were on the run from Jewish and Roman persecution, but his message was timeless. Look at the list below–how many of these topics are relevant today?
- coping with problems and crises
- resisting temptation
- growing in wisdom
- living with integrity
- overcoming anger
- developing a dynamic faith
- controlling our tongue
- building better relationships
- the cause of conflict and how to resolve it
- planning for the future
- blocked goals and inner conflict
- using money wisely
- when, why, and how to pray
- how to develop patience
In the coming weeks, we’ll unpack the truths of this small book and explore how they apply to Christ followers in the twenty-first century.
We’ll start in verse one of chapter one. James addresses his letter to “the twelve tribes who are scattered abroad,” and introduces himself as “a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” He is writing a letter to persecuted Christians who are living outside of Israel. Many have no pastor to counsel them, so it’s not surprising that James’s first subject is how to respond to trouble. He says, “My brothers and sisters, when you face trials of many kinds, consider it all joy….”
Many of us find that hard to do. Impossible even. James doesn’t say “try to find a little happiness when times are tough.” He doesn’t tell them to look for the silver lining. He says that they are to be full of joy in even the worst of circumstances.
Like I said–sounds impossible. How can we be joyful when bad things are happening to us or people we care about? James answers that question, but he first points out some basic facts about the nature of problems.
- First, he reminds us that everyone experiences hurt and heartache. In verse 2, James doesn’t say, “if trouble comes.” He says “when trouble comes.” All of us learn that truth early on.
- He also points out that crises are often unexpected and encompassing. In verse 2, the Greek word translated “face” is peripesete, and means, “to fall into so as to be surrounded by.” That’s a clunky translation, but it gets the point across. Some of our troubles will be small and manageable–others will swallow us up. Jesus uses peripesete in the parable of the good samaritan: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers.” The man did not expect to be robbed, beaten, and left for dead. He expected to be in Jericho in a few hours.
- James then reminds us of a third basic fact about problems: they come in all shapes and sizes. In verse 3, he uses the adjective poikilois (“multicolored” or “motley”) to describe the trials that all of us face. Some of our troubles are minor inconveniences; others are major setbacks. Some pass quickly; others last a lifetime. Some are common to everyone; others seem like they were custom made just for us.
These three facts about problems are universally known, but James shares a fourth truth that few of us learn: our problems can help us become spiritually mature. He says, “Consider it all joy because you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” James says that difficulties can bless us in two ways:
- First, trials can refine our faith. The word translated “testing” is dokimion, a jeweler’s term that refers to the way gold was purified in the fire (when the metal liquifies, the impurities rise to the top and can be skimmed off). Peter uses the same analogy in 1 Peter 1:7 to demonstrate the process God uses to cleanse us
- Second, our troubles can help us develop perseverance–the inner strength to keep on keeping on. The word translated “steadfastness” is hupomonen, the ability to do well under pressure. How many of us would like to respond better under pressure? How many of us would like a bag of do-overs for the times we exploded under pressure?
Problems can bring hurt and heartache into our lives, but they also have the potential to transform us into the men and women God created us to be. Next time we’ll look at the results of the process: “that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (v4).