Faith Proved by How We Handle Trials: James 1:1-18

James 1:1‑18  •  30 min. read  •  grade level: 8
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The Salutation
Vs. 1—“James” writes to his fellow countrymen who had professed faith in "the Lord Jesus Christ." He was not one of the twelve apostles (Luke 6:13-1613And when it was day, he called unto him his disciples: and of them he chose twelve, whom also he named apostles; 14Simon, (whom he also named Peter,) and Andrew his brother, James and John, Philip and Bartholomew, 15Matthew and Thomas, James the son of Alpheus, and Simon called Zelotes, 16And Judas the brother of James, and Judas Iscariot, which also was the traitor. (Luke 6:13‑16)), but was one of the chief elders in the assembly at Jerusalem (Acts 12:17; 15:13-21; 21:17-2517But he, beckoning unto them with the hand to hold their peace, declared unto them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, Go show these things unto James, and to the brethren. And he departed, and went into another place. (Acts 12:17)
13And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me: 14Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. 15And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, 16After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: 17That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things. 18Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world. 19Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: 20But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood. 21For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day. (Acts 15:13‑21)
17And when we were come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly. 18And the day following Paul went in with us unto James; and all the elders were present. 19And when he had saluted them, he declared particularly what things God had wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry. 20And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord, and said unto him, Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law: 21And they are informed of thee, that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs. 22What is it therefore? the multitude must needs come together: for they will hear that thou art come. 23Do therefore this that we say to thee: We have four men which have a vow on them; 24Them take, and purify thyself with them, and be at charges with them, that they may shave their heads: and all may know that those things, whereof they were informed concerning thee, are nothing; but that thou thyself also walkest orderly, and keepest the law. 25As touching the Gentiles which believe, we have written and concluded that they observe no such thing, save only that they keep themselves from things offered to idols, and from blood, and from strangled, and from fornication. (Acts 21:17‑25)
; Gal. 2:99And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision. (Galatians 2:9)). James was "the Lord’s brother," having grown up in the family of Joseph and Mary (Mark 6:33Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him. (Mark 6:3); Gal. 1:1919But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord's brother. (Galatians 1:19)). He was an unbeliever during the Lord’s earthly ministry (John 7:3-103His brethren therefore said unto him, Depart hence, and go into Judea, that thy disciples also may see the works that thou doest. 4For there is no man that doeth any thing in secret, and he himself seeketh to be known openly. If thou do these things, show thyself to the world. 5For neither did his brethren believe in him. 6Then Jesus said unto them, My time is not yet come: but your time is alway ready. 7The world cannot hate you; but me it hateth, because I testify of it, that the works thereof are evil. 8Go ye up unto this feast: I go not up yet unto this feast; for my time is not yet full come. 9When he had said these words unto them, he abode still in Galilee. 10But when his brethren were gone up, then went he also up unto the feast, not openly, but as it were in secret. (John 7:3‑10)), but was converted shortly after His death. This likely happened when the Lord appeared to him after He rose from the dead (1 Cor. 15:77After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. (1 Corinthians 15:7)). Josephus tells us that James was stoned to death by the Sanhedrin (the Jewish council) around A.D. 61-62 in the same fashion as Stephen.
This epistle is classed as a "general" epistle, meaning that it was not written to any specific assembly or individual, but to a wider audience—"to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad" (chap. 1:1). These tribes of Israel had been dispersed for many years, starting with the carrying away of the ten tribes (2 Kings 15:27-31; 17:3-4127In the two and fiftieth year of Azariah king of Judah Pekah the son of Remaliah began to reign over Israel in Samaria, and reigned twenty years. 28And he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord: he departed not from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin. 29In the days of Pekah king of Israel came Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, and took Ijon, and Abel-beth-maachah, and Janoah, and Kedesh, and Hazor, and Gilead, and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali, and carried them captive to Assyria. 30And Hoshea the son of Elah made a conspiracy against Pekah the son of Remaliah, and smote him, and slew him, and reigned in his stead, in the twentieth year of Jotham the son of Uzziah. 31And the rest of the acts of Pekah, and all that he did, behold, they are written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel. (2 Kings 15:27‑31)
3Against him came up Shalmaneser king of Assyria; and Hoshea became his servant, and gave him presents. 4And the king of Assyria found conspiracy in Hoshea: for he had sent messengers to So king of Egypt, and brought no present to the king of Assyria, as he had done year by year: therefore the king of Assyria shut him up, and bound him in prison. 5Then the king of Assyria came up throughout all the land, and went up to Samaria, and besieged it three years. 6In the ninth year of Hoshea the king of Assyria took Samaria, and carried Israel away into Assyria, and placed them in Halah and in Habor by the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes. 7For so it was, that the children of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God, which had brought them up out of the land of Egypt, from under the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and had feared other gods, 8And walked in the statutes of the heathen, whom the Lord cast out from before the children of Israel, and of the kings of Israel, which they had made. 9And the children of Israel did secretly those things that were not right against the Lord their God, and they built them high places in all their cities, from the tower of the watchmen to the fenced city. 10And they set them up images and groves in every high hill, and under every green tree: 11And there they burnt incense in all the high places, as did the heathen whom the Lord carried away before them; and wrought wicked things to provoke the Lord to anger: 12For they served idols, whereof the Lord had said unto them, Ye shall not do this thing. 13Yet the Lord testified against Israel, and against Judah, by all the prophets, and by all the seers, saying, Turn ye from your evil ways, and keep my commandments and my statutes, according to all the law which I commanded your fathers, and which I sent to you by my servants the prophets. 14Notwithstanding they would not hear, but hardened their necks, like to the neck of their fathers, that did not believe in the Lord their God. 15And they rejected his statutes, and his covenant that he made with their fathers, and his testimonies which he testified against them; and they followed vanity, and became vain, and went after the heathen that were round about them, concerning whom the Lord had charged them, that they should not do like them. 16And they left all the commandments of the Lord their God, and made them molten images, even two calves, and made a grove, and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served Baal. 17And they caused their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire, and used divination and enchantments, and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke him to anger. 18Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel, and removed them out of his sight: there was none left but the tribe of Judah only. 19Also Judah kept not the commandments of the Lord their God, but walked in the statutes of Israel which they made. 20And the Lord rejected all the seed of Israel, and afflicted them, and delivered them into the hand of spoilers, until he had cast them out of his sight. 21For he rent Israel from the house of David; and they made Jeroboam the son of Nebat king: and Jeroboam drave Israel from following the Lord, and made them sin a great sin. 22For the children of Israel walked in all the sins of Jeroboam which he did; they departed not from them; 23Until the Lord removed Israel out of his sight, as he had said by all his servants the prophets. So was Israel carried away out of their own land to Assyria unto this day. 24And the king of Assyria brought men from Babylon, and from Cuthah, and from Ava, and from Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel: and they possessed Samaria, and dwelt in the cities thereof. 25And so it was at the beginning of their dwelling there, that they feared not the Lord: therefore the Lord sent lions among them, which slew some of them. 26Wherefore they spake to the king of Assyria, saying, The nations which thou hast removed, and placed in the cities of Samaria, know not the manner of the God of the land: therefore he hath sent lions among them, and, behold, they slay them, because they know not the manner of the God of the land. 27Then the king of Assyria commanded, saying, Carry thither one of the priests whom ye brought from thence; and let them go and dwell there, and let him teach them the manner of the God of the land. 28Then one of the priests whom they had carried away from Samaria came and dwelt in Beth-el, and taught them how they should fear the Lord. 29Howbeit every nation made gods of their own, and put them in the houses of the high places which the Samaritans had made, every nation in their cities wherein they dwelt. 30And the men of Babylon made Succoth-benoth, and the men of Cuth made Nergal, and the men of Hamath made Ashima, 31And the Avites made Nibhaz and Tartak, and the Sepharvites burnt their children in fire to Adrammelech and Anammelech, the gods of Sepharvaim. 32So they feared the Lord, and made unto themselves of the lowest of them priests of the high places, which sacrificed for them in the houses of the high places. 33They feared the Lord, and served their own gods, after the manner of the nations whom they carried away from thence. 34Unto this day they do after the former manners: they fear not the Lord, neither do they after their statutes, or after their ordinances, or after the law and commandment which the Lord commanded the children of Jacob, whom he named Israel; 35With whom the Lord had made a covenant, and charged them, saying, Ye shall not fear other gods, nor bow yourselves to them, nor serve them, nor sacrifice to them: 36But the Lord, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt with great power and a stretched out arm, him shall ye fear, and him shall ye worship, and to him shall ye do sacrifice. 37And the statutes, and the ordinances, and the law, and the commandment, which he wrote for you, ye shall observe to do for evermore; and ye shall not fear other gods. 38And the covenant that I have made with you ye shall not forget; neither shall ye fear other gods. 39But the Lord your God ye shall fear; and he shall deliver you out of the hand of all your enemies. 40Howbeit they did not hearken, but they did after their former manner. 41So these nations feared the Lord, and served their graven images, both their children, and their children's children: as did their fathers, so do they unto this day. (2 Kings 17:3‑41)
) and then later the two tribes (2 Kings 24). While a remnant of Jews (the two tribes) returned to their homeland in Ezra 1-2, most remained scattered (John 7:3535Then said the Jews among themselves, Whither will he go, that we shall not find him? will he go unto the dispersed among the Gentiles, and teach the Gentiles? (John 7:35)). James' faith was such that he believed that there were some among these tribes of Israel who had faith in Christ, and addressed his epistle to them. Some of these may have been in Jerusalem and heard the apostles preach at Pentecost (Acts 2), or at some later date, and returned to the various countries where they lived as believers on the Lord Jesus. J. N. Darby points out that by James speaking of "the twelve tribes" in this way, it indicated that the nation had not yet been formally (literally) set aside in the ways of God. This happened later in A.D. 70.
Two Kinds of Temptations (Trials)
Since the brethren to whom James was writing were facing a severe trial of persecution in regard to the Christian stand that they had taken, he addresses the subject of temptations (trials) first. He speaks of two kinds of trials that a believer faces in the path of faith. They are:
Holy trials—These are temptations from without; from external things that God allows to come into our lives to test us (vss. 2-12).
Unholy trials—These are temptations from within that emanate from us allowing the lusts of our sin-nature to gain control of us (vss. 13-15).
(Hebrews 4:1515For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15) tells us that the Lord Jesus was tested in all points as we are in the area of the first class of temptations. It says that He was “tempted in all things in like manner, sin apart.” This means that He was tested by trials in His life of every kind that a holy man could be tried, with the exception of temptations that emanate from the “sin” nature within. The Lord never had temptations of the second kind, because He did not have a fallen sin-nature with which to respond to Satan's temptations. John 14:3030Hereafter I will not talk much with you: for the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me. (John 14:30) indicates that there was nothing "in" Him that could be affected by such things because He had only a holy human nature – Luke 1:3535And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. (Luke 1:35).)
In these verses, James shows that both kinds of temptations are to be met with faith. Not only would faith help a person to rise above them victoriously, but it would also manifest the reality of their profession.
Temptations From Without
Vss. 2-4—The Church, in that day, was predominantly comprised of converted Jews, and they were under tremendous persecution from their unbelieving countrymen for their profession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thess. 2:14-1614For ye, brethren, became followers of the churches of God which in Judea are in Christ Jesus: for ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews: 15Who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men: 16Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins alway: for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost. (1 Thessalonians 2:14‑16)). How this mixed company of professed converts reacted to these trials from without (persecutions) revealed a lot about where they truly were in their souls—that is, whether they were real believers or not. There was a constant temptation before them to avoid the trial of persecution by drawing back into the Jewish fold (Heb. 10:38-3938Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. 39But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul. (Hebrews 10:38‑39)). However, that would prove that their professed faith in Christ was not real.
While persecution was the outstanding trial that these Jewish converts faced, James addresses his remarks to a wide variety of trials which he calls, "divers [various] temptations." This, of course, would include the trial of persecution, but would take in all sorts of things that would test a Christian's faith. It could be health-related things, financial difficulties, family sorrows, marital problems, etc.
James says that we "fall into" these temptations (holy trials). This may sound a little unusual; we could better understand it if he had said this in connection with the second kind of trials relating to sin (vss. 13-18). However, we must remember that the KJV is an old English translation that has some archaic usages of words. The expression "fall into" in this passage is an example. Today we would say "befall." This helps us to understanding what James is talking about. He is saying that there will be certain difficulties and troubles that will befall us, and thus come into our lives quite unexpectedly and beyond our control (compare Acts 27:4141And falling into a place where two seas met, they ran the ship aground; and the forepart stuck fast, and remained unmoveable, but the hinder part was broken with the violence of the waves. (Acts 27:41)).
Four Things Necessary in Order to Profit From Trials
James speaks of four things that we must have in times of trial in order to profit from it spiritually.
A Cheerful Spirit
Firstly, we need to maintain a cheerful spirit (vs. 2). He says, "My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations." This might appear a little paradoxical. How can anybody be happy about having a trial in his or her life? However, James doesn't say that we are to be happy about the troubles and problems that come our way. God does not want us to laugh off a trial of this sort, as if it were something that is not to be taken seriously. James is simply warning us against the tendency to complain when a trial comes our way. Thus, his exhortation is to be careful to maintain a cheerful spirit. The "joy" that he is speaking about here results from faith looking beyond the trial to its positive outcome. If we lack faith, we will not rejoice but complain about it. Consequently, we will not be in a proper state to gain from the trial.
An Understanding Mind
James goes on to speak of a second thing that we need in order to profit from trials—an understanding mind (vs. 3). He says, "Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience [endurance]." Our ability to rejoice in trials is connected with "knowing" and believing that the Lord wouldn't allow anything to touch us that didn't have a purpose of "love" on His part (Heb. 12:66For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. (Hebrews 12:6)) and "need be" on our part (1 Peter 1:66Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: (1 Peter 1:6)). Understanding that the trial has been ordered of God and to work out something in us for our spiritual profit—such as "patience [endurance]" which is an important feature in Christian character—we will be able to pass through the trial with the right attitude. Without this knowledge, we might not know what was happening when trouble assailed us, and as a result, our faith could break down under it and we could become discouraged.
The Apostle Paul speaks of the importance of this kind of knowledge in Romans 8:2828And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28): "We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose." He doesn't say that all things that come into our lives are good—because some of them may be very sad and bad—but that those things "work together for good." We may not see it at the time of the trial, but the trial is meant to work in our lives toward something that is good in the end—as far as our moral being is concerned (Deut. 8:1616Who fed thee in the wilderness with manna, which thy fathers knew not, that he might humble thee, and that he might prove thee, to do thee good at thy latter end; (Deuteronomy 8:16)). Let us remember that every child of God is in the school of God, and thus under His divine training (Job 35:10-11; 36:2210But none saith, Where is God my maker, who giveth songs in the night; 11Who teacheth us more than the beasts of the earth, and maketh us wiser than the fowls of heaven? (Job 35:10‑11)
22Behold, God exalteth by his power: who teacheth like him? (Job 36:22)
; Psa. 94:1010He that chastiseth the heathen, shall not he correct? he that teacheth man knowledge, shall not he know? (Psalm 94:10); Isa. 48:1717Thus saith the Lord, thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel; I am the Lord thy God which teacheth thee to profit, which leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldest go. (Isaiah 48:17); Heb. 12:10-1110For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. 11Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. (Hebrews 12:10‑11)). God uses trials for our spiritual education—to teach us dependence and obedience (Psa. 119:67-68, 7167Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word. 68Thou art good, and doest good; teach me thy statutes. (Psalm 119:67‑68)
71It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes. (Psalm 119:71)
) and to form the character of Christ in us (Rom. 8:2929For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. (Romans 8:29)), etc. Knowing and believing that such things "work together for" our good and profit gives us the ability to endure in times of trial.
J. N. Darby remarked that "trial cannot in itself confer grace, but under God’s hand it can break the will and detect hidden and unsuspected evils, and that if judged, the new life is more fully developed and God has a larger place in the heart. Also, by it lowly dependence is taught; and as a result, there is more distrust of self and the flesh, and a consciousness that the world is nothing, and what is eternally true and divine has a larger place in the soul." Hence, trials have a way of removing superfluous things in our lives and in our personalities. They tend to disconnect us from our material resources and positions in life, and connect us with what is spiritual and eternal.
When trial comes, we quite naturally think, "How can I get out of this." But we really should be saying is, "What can I get out of this!" There are at least ten positive things that result from the trials that the Lord's people pass through, if they are taken rightly:
They wean us from earthly things and thus turn us heavenward; as a result, the heavenly hope burns more brightly in our hearts (Luke 12:22-4022And he said unto his disciples, Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat; neither for the body, what ye shall put on. 23The life is more than meat, and the body is more than raiment. 24Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse nor barn; and God feedeth them: how much more are ye better than the fowls? 25And which of you with taking thought can add to his stature one cubit? 26If ye then be not able to do that thing which is least, why take ye thought for the rest? 27Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 28If then God so clothe the grass, which is to day in the field, and to morrow is cast into the oven; how much more will he clothe you, O ye of little faith? 29And seek not ye what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind. 30For all these things do the nations of the world seek after: and your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things. 31But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you. 32Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth. 34For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. 35Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning; 36And ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately. 37Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them. 38And if he shall come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants. 39And this know, that if the goodman of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched, and not have suffered his house to be broken through. 40Be ye therefore ready also: for the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not. (Luke 12:22‑40)).
A Submissive Will
James speaks of a third thing that we need in order to profit from trials—a submissive will that accepts the trial from hand of God as a divine appointment (vs. 4). James says, "Let patience [endurance] have her perfect work that ye may be perfect." The danger here is to resist what God is doing in our lives through the trial, and thus not to profit from it. The key is to "let" the trial do its good work in us, because it is ordered of God to make us "perfect." Perfect, in the sense that James speaks of it here, means full growth (maturity). This shows that God is deeply interested in our spiritual development, and that He is willing to allow suffering in our lives "for a season" to accomplish it (1 Peter 1:66Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: (1 Peter 1:6)).
It will require faith to allow the trial to do its divinely appointed work. But, if we believe that God has ordered it for our good and blessing, and that He has something to teach us in it, we will be more inclined to submit to Him in the trial. It will work toward the formation of our character and the moral qualities that go into making us mature (“perfect”) Christians. Thus, we will grow spiritually. David spoke of this; he said, "In pressure Thou hast enlarged me" (Psa. 4:11<<To the chief Musician on Neginoth, A Psalm of David.>> Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness: thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress; have mercy upon me, and hear my prayer. (Psalm 4:1)). One great result in submitting to the trial in faith is that we become “complete, wanting nothing.” We will lack nothing as far as the formation of our Christian character is concerned.
Job displayed this spirit of submission when his multi-faceted trial came on him. He "arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped, and said, Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away: blessed be the name of the LORD" (Job 1:20-2120Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped, 21And said, Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord. (Job 1:20‑21)). Faith believes that God is over all things, and that He is good and only appoints what is for the good of His people. In Job's case, God used the trial to make a good man better. In the middle chapters of the book of Job, Job developed a bad spirit when provoked by his three friends, and he became bitter, but God prevailed, and in the end, Job repented and got a blessing from it. Job's problem was not in his actions, but in his attitude. He was "perfect" outwardly (Job 1:11There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil. (Job 1:1)), but God wanted him to be perfect inwardly too (Job 23:1010But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold. (Job 23:10)). That God would go to such lengths in the troubles He allowed in Job's life shows the importance that He puts on His people having a right attitude. The lesson for us here is that if we do not have a right spirit, the trial could make us bitter rather than better, and thus we will miss out on the blessing that God has for us in it.
Some things to remember which will help us to accept our trials from the hand of God in a right spirit are:
An Exercised Heart
The fourth thing that we need in order to profit from trials is an exercised heart that seeks God's face in prayer in regard to the trial (vs. 5). James, therefore, encourages us to get into the presence of God in prayer and commit our situation to Him, asking Him for wisdom to know how to handle the problem properly. He says, "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth [reproaches] not; and it shall be given him." If we are truly concerned about what God has for us in the trial—though we may not know why the circumstances have occurred in the way in which they have—it will "yield the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby" (Heb. 12:1111Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. (Hebrews 12:11)).
Eliphaz exhorted Job to seek God's face in his trial. He said, "I would seek unto God, and unto God would I commit my cause" (Job 5:88I would seek unto God, and unto God would I commit my cause: (Job 5:8)). This will always be a fruitful exercise. Someone once said, "We should never let adversity get us down—except on our knees." Faith will see the difficulty as coming from the hand of God and will go to Him about it. God wants us to come to Him with our difficulties and troubles; He has promised to give us “wisdom” in the trial so that we will know how to deal with those things that assail us. James assures us that the wisdom we need for those trying situations "shall be given" to us, if we "ask" Him for it. He never “upbraids [reproaches]” us for coming to Him for help. This should encourage us to go to Him in prayer all the more. Trials, therefore, have a way of drawing us closer to the Lord—and that is certainly a good thing.
James adds, "But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering." While we may lack wisdom for the situation, we should never lack faith. Note also: James does not tell us to ask God to help us get out of the trial, but that we might have divine wisdom in the trial. Naturally speaking, we would like to get out of the trial—and that is understandable—but it is not what James encourages us to ask for. He would have us to seek grace and wisdom from God in the trial, and to try to profit from it.
These four things which we have mentioned will be evident in the life of a person who has faith in the time of trial. In fact, the most difficult circumstances in life are our greatest opportunities to manifest our faith in God (Job 13:1515Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him. (Job 13:15)). It will be evident by the way in which we respond in trials.
The Danger of Not Meeting Trials With Faith
Vss. 6-8—James goes on to speak of the dangers of not meeting trials in faith. He says, "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 anything of the Lord." It is futile to go to God about certain difficulties in our lives, if we don't come to Him in real faith. If we ask the Lord for help in a trial, but we don’t believe that He will do anything for us, we prove to be “double-minded” and faithless in the matter. All such doubters will not “receive anything of the Lord.” This shows that answers to prayers can be hindered by unbelief.
A person may claim to be a believer, but if he is not a true believer, his prayer life will manifest it. Trials have a way of bringing this out. Who we really are becomes evident in times of trial. If a person's faith is only a professed thing, he will not truly turn to God in the trial—though there may be a pretence of doing it. He or she will be seen turning to human resources and other things for help.
Rewards for Exercising Faith and Wisdom in Trials
Vss. 9-12—James shows that the positive effects of trials are worked out in people from all walks of life—they touch everyone's lives in one way or another. He takes up two extremes to demonstrate this—a poor man and a rich man.
A "brother of low degree" (a poor man) rejoices because the lessons he learns in his trials cause him to value more deeply what he has in his "exalted" place with Christ. He rejoices in his spiritual blessings. He also learns practical lessons in regard to the compassions of God by receiving help from God in his times of need. The result is that the Lord becomes more precious to him.
The "rich" man, on the other hand, learns valuable lessons in humility ("humiliation") by passing through trials. He learns that his money cannot insulate him from trouble, and thus he is cast on God like every other believer. Trials have a way of "whittling" rich men down to the size of an average man. They have a way of teaching him dependence, which all men must learn. James doesn't say, "Let the rich man rejoice in his riches," but rather that he should rejoice in that he is "made low," and thus made more like Christ (Matt. 11:2929Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. (Matthew 11:29)). This shows that there is something valuable in learning humility. The rich man is taught not to trust in himself, nor in "uncertain riches," but in God (1 Tim. 6:1717Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; (1 Timothy 6:17)).
In light of eternity, the temporal advantages that a rich man has will not last. To emphasize this point, James reminds us that as "the sun" rises with "burning heat" and "withers the grass" and "the flower," so also will "the rich man fade away in his ways." While James is referring to rich men generally, the rich man who has faith can learn from his trial (if taken rightly) that material riches are nothing in comparison to divine and eternal things. He may know this intellectually, but the trial will help to know consciously and practically. His focus in day to day living will get turned away from temporal things toward eternal things in a more real way, and thus he will value them more deeply.
The point in these verses is that, whether a person is rich or poor, he can derive lasting spiritual benefits from the trials of life, if they are taken in faith. The poor man and the rich man can rejoice alike in the fact that moral and spiritual qualities are being produced in them by enduring trials.
Vs. 12—James passes on to give a word of encouragement to the one who "endures temptation" (trial). He says, "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." He shows that there is a present and a future reward for passing through trials with the Lord. There is a present blessedness. ("Blessed" means to be happy.) This refers to an inner joy that is given to those who walk with the Lord in their trial. It results from knowing that we are the special objects of His care in the particular trial that He has given us. This joy is known only to those who take the trial from the Lord in faith. Then, there is also a future reward of receiving a “crown of life” in the day of reckoning. This would be at the judgment seat of Christ (Rom. 14:10-1210But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. 11For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. 12So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God. (Romans 14:10‑12); 1 Cor. 3:13; 4:513Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. (1 Corinthians 3:13)
5Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God. (1 Corinthians 4:5)
; 2 Cor. 5:1010For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. (2 Corinthians 5:10); Matt. 25:20-2320And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more. 21His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. 22He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them. 23His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. (Matthew 25:20‑23)). This teaches us that the Lord values faith, and that He will reward it in a coming day.
However, if we rebel against the things that the Lord has given us to bear, we not only lose our present joy in the Lord and the spiritual profit that God intends for us to gain from the trial, but we also lose a future reward. James adds that these present joys and future rewards are promised "to them that love Him" and endure the trial in faith. This shows that the trials that the Lord gives us to bear are an excellent way for us to show our love to Him. Taking them from His hand in submission is indeed a beautiful thing to Him; He values it and will reward us in that day.
Summary of the Good Things that Trials Produce in Our Lives if Taken in Faith
They are opportunities to manifest our faith (vs. 3).
They work endurance in us (vs. 3).
They produce spiritual maturity (vs. 4).
They teach us dependence on God (vss. 5-6).
They teach us to value eternal things (vss. 9-11).
We will be rewarded for enduring them—presently and in the future (vs. 12).
They are opportunities to prove our love for the Lord Jesus (vs. 12).
Temptations From Within
Vss. 13-15—James goes on to speak of the other kind of temptation—the temptation to sin. As mentioned, these are unholy trials which emanate from the fallen sin-nature. Note: James does not say, “Count it all joy” here, as he did with the first kind of temptation. Satan would like to present these things to us as something that will make us happy, but it's a lie. In reality—and we all know from experience—giving way to the lusts of the flesh does not bring happiness. It leaves us unsatisfied and out of communion with God. James shows in this series of verses that we can overcome these temptations to sin if they are met with faith.
He begins by clearly stating that these kinds of temptations do not come from God. He says, "Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God. God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth He any man." James mentions this because the natural tendency of the human heart is to shift the responsibility for our wrong-doing onto someone else. However, we cannot blame God for our sinful lusts. God does not tempt people to do what He hates; He will test our faith in various ways, but He will not tempt us to do evil.
Sin emanates from our own wills acting; and it all comes from within the human heart. The Lord taught, "For from within, out the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: all these evil things come from within, and defile the man" (Mark 7:21-2321For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, 22Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: 23All these evil things come from within, and defile the man. (Mark 7:21‑23)). The simple truth is that we sin because we choose to sin. A believer may “enter” into these kinds of temptations, if he or she chooses to do so (Matt. 26:4141Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. (Matthew 26:41)). Therefore, we are fully responsible for allowing sin in our lives.
James shows us the fruit of allowing lust within. There is a course, or a chain of things, that works out in our lives. It begins with "lust" conceived in the heart, and if not judged in the presence of God (1 John 1:99If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)), it bears fruit in acts of "sin," which ultimately results in "death." His point is unmistakably clear; if we allow lustful thoughts to linger in our hearts, they will surely bring forth sin and death in our lives.
Sow a thought, reap an action,
Sow an action, reap a habit,
Sow a habit, reap a character,
Sow a character, reap a destiny.
It may be asked, "In what way does allowing sin in a person's life bring forth death?" "Death," in Scripture, always has the thought of separation of some kind. It depends on the context of the passage; it could be separation of the soul and spirit from the body in physical death (James 2:2626For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. (James 2:26)), or it could be the separation of the unbeliever from the presence of God forever in a lost eternity (Rev. 20:6, 146Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years. (Revelation 20:6)
14And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. (Revelation 20:14)
"the second death"), etc. Sin, in its fullest sense, results in physical death (Gen. 2:1717But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. (Genesis 2:17); Rom. 5:1212Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: (Romans 5:12)), and, if a person is not saved, it result in eternal separation from God. In regard to a believer allowing sin in his or her life, it is referring to death in a moral sense. That is, there will be a disconnection in his communion with God practically, whereby no fruit can be produced in his life. The Apostle Paul speaks of this aspect of death in Romans 8:1313For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. (Romans 8:13): "For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die." (See also 1 Timothy 5:66But she that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth. (1 Timothy 5:6).)
Vss. 16-18—In connection with the foregoing remarks, James says, "Do not err, my beloved brethren." Essentially, he is saying, "Don't make a mistake ("err") in thinking that you can get something good through lust." Every time we think that we can get something good through gratifying our lusts, we make a mistake; it only produces moral death in our lives. We are left unhappy, unsatisfied, and out of communion with God.
How Temptations From Within Are to Be Handled
James goes on to show us how these kinds of temptations are to be handled so that we don't sin in these situations. Firstly, we need to remember that God is a good God and a giving God, who provides for all of His creatures. Everything that the child of God needs for his happiness “comes down from the Father of lights;” it does not come by reaching out for it through lust. We need to keep this great fact before our souls because the tendency is to lose sight of it in times of temptation.
James notes that there are two kinds of gifts that God gives to men. There are “good” gifts, which are the natural things in life that He gives to all mankind (Eccl. 3:13; 5:1913And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labor, it is the gift of God. (Ecclesiastes 3:13)
19Every man also to whom God hath given riches and wealth, and hath given him power to eat thereof, and to take his portion, and to rejoice in his labor; this is the gift of God. (Ecclesiastes 5:19)
; Acts 14:1717Nevertheless he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness. (Acts 14:17); 1 Tim. 6:1717Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; (1 Timothy 6:17)), and then there are “perfect” gifts, which are spiritual things that God gives to believers (Rom. 6:2323For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 6:23); John 4:1010Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water. (John 4:10); 1 Thess. 4:88He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his holy Spirit. (1 Thessalonians 4:8); Eph. 2:8; 4:78For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: (Ephesians 2:8)
7But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. (Ephesians 4:7)
). This shows that God is the Source and Giver of every good and perfect thing. He will supply all our needs—naturally and spiritually—in His good time (Phil. 4:1919But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19)). He is not the originator of sinful temptations within. We must have faith to believe this in order to conquer sinful lusts.
Moreover, James calls God "the Father of Lights." This indicates that He is an all-knowing and all-caring God. "Father" speaks of tenderness, love, and care. It means that He is not an impersonal God who acts without feeling towards His creatures. "Lights" emphasizes His infinite knowledge and understanding of every situation in life. It means that He knows our situation in life perfectly, and will provide what we need according to His great goodness. James adds, "With whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning." This means that there is no changeableness in God's disposition toward us; His intentions to bless and provide for us cannot not be altered (Mal. 3:66For I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed. (Malachi 3:6)). He is not a fickle God. We can be sure, therefore, that He will do the very best for us in our situation in life. Faith believes this. It believes that God is the Bestower of every benefit that we enjoy—naturally and spiritually—and looks to Him to provide what is needed in His good time. This kind of confidence in God pleases Him greatly (Psa. 118:8-98It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man. 9It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in princes. (Psalm 118:8‑9)).
He knows, He loves, He hears,
Nothing this truth can dim;
He gives the very best,
To those who leave the choice to Him.
However, the believer's faith is the very thing that Satan attacks (Luke 22:3232But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren. (Luke 22:32)). His aim is to shake our confidence in the goodness of God. When we have a need that is not immediately filled by God, we are being tested by Him in the matter. When Satan sees this, he will suggest to us that God is holding back something good from us. He will also suggest that we should, therefore, take action for ourselves in the matter. If our confidence in God is shaken, we will likely entertain Satan's suggestions and reach out for that thing which we think we need. However, when acting in self-will and in independence of God, we bring forth sin and death in our lives. Mr. H. E. Hayhoe rightly said, "Unbelief in the goodness of God is the root of all our failures."
This is exactly the line upon which Satan tempted Eve in the garden of Eden. He told her that eating the fruit of the tree would make them "as gods" (Gen. 3:55For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. (Genesis 3:5)), and that God was holding that good thing back from them. When her faith was shaken as to God's goodness and she believed that if she took the fruit it would improve her and her husband's position, she took the forbidden thing and ate it. But it was all a lie. Taking the fruit did not improve Adam and Eve and make them as God; it made them sinners.
Satan tried the same tactic on the Lord in the temptations in the wilderness (Luke 4:1-131And Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost returned from Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, 2Being forty days tempted of the devil. And in those days he did eat nothing: and when they were ended, he afterward hungered. 3And the devil said unto him, If thou be the Son of God, command this stone that it be made bread. 4And Jesus answered him, saying, It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God. 5And the devil, taking him up into an high mountain, showed unto him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. 6And the devil said unto him, All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it. 7If thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be thine. 8And Jesus answered and said unto him, Get thee behind me, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. 9And he brought him to Jerusalem, and set him on a pinnacle of the temple, and said unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down from hence: 10For it is written, He shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee: 11And in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. 12And Jesus answering said unto him, It is said, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. 13And when the devil had ended all the temptation, he departed from him for a season. (Luke 4:1‑13)). In essence, he said to Him, "If you are the Son of God, why doesn't God look after you in one of the most basic things in life—your need of food?" Behind this temptation was an attempt to get the Lord to pity Himself in that situation. The devil as much as said to Him, "You're starving here; this shouldn't happen to a godly man!" Then, he suggested that the Lord should use His Godhead power to supply that need—which God evidently was not supplying. But to do so, He would be taking a step in independence of God. Note how subtle Satan is: he told the Lord to make the stone into bread; he didn't go so far as to tell Him to eat it! He knew from his experience with human behavior that it wouldn't take long for a hungry man, who saw food in front of him, to reach out and eat it. But Satan was defeated in this ruse by the Lord's faith in God (Psa. 16:11<<Michtam of David.>> Preserve me, O God: for in thee do I put my trust. (Psalm 16:1)) and the Lord's obedience to God's Word (Psa. 17:44Concerning the works of men, by the word of thy lips I have kept me from the paths of the destroyer. (Psalm 17:4)).
The devil has been using this tactic on men and women since the beginning of time. It shows us how subtle he is (2 Cor. 11:33But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. (2 Corinthians 11:3)) and also how deceptive the human heart is (Jer. 17:99The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9)). Hence, James is teaching us that we can overcome these temptations to sin by having faith in God's goodness—and this will be evident by our waiting on Him to supply our needs.
Vs. 18—James then speaks of God's great sovereignty. "Of His own will begat He us with the Word of truth." This is referring to our new birth (John 3:3-53Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. 4Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born? 5Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. (John 3:3‑5); 1 Peter 1:2323Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. (1 Peter 1:23)). He was not forced to do this great act of kindness and mercy—He did it of His "own will" and out of the goodness of His heart. He initiated our spiritual life in the first place, and in doing so, He has made it His responsibility to care for us and to sustain us in the path of faith. If we indeed are His children, why would we think that He will not care for us, and that we have to sin to sustain our practical needs? Moreover, Christians are the "firstfruits of His creatures." We have thus been given a unique and very favoured place among all of God's creatures. Being so favoured as we are, it is even more ludicrous to think that He will not provide for us (Isa. 49:1515Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. (Isaiah 49:15)).
Hence, as there is a right and wrong way to react to temptations (trials) from without, there is also a right and wrong way to react to temptations within. As to the latter, we can allow ourselves to be “enticed” in our lusts and get "drawn away"—but it will only bring forth moral "death." Or, we can wait in faith on the Father of Lights to supply our needs in His good time.
How a person responds in these situations in life will give an index as to where he is in his soul spiritually. If a person does not trust God and does not judge himself, but habitually succumbs to lusts and sins as a way of life, it calls into question whether he or she has faith at all. The falseness of a person's professed faith is thus exposed. A believer may sin and fail in his life, but he will repent and judge himself, and rise up and go on in the path of faith (Prov. 24:1616For a just man falleth seven times, and riseth up again: but the wicked shall fall into mischief. (Proverbs 24:16)). Falling down does not make a person a failure in life; it is staying down that does. Falling down does not mean that a person is not saved, but staying down calls into question whether he is. A person who is not a real believer in the Lord Jesus Christ will remain in his sins as a habitual course of life, and by this he will show that his profession of faith is not real.
The point that James is making in this first section of verses is that temptations—whether they are from without or from within—manifest where a person is in his soul. Thus, trials and temptations in life are really opportunities to manifest our faith and to show that we are real believers.