From Overview: 1:1-18 – Faith [in trials] goes with Humility, Doubt with Pride
We have been saying around here literally for years that you can be known by the kind of fruit you are displaying to the rest of humanity. Some of us have taken that seriously, and some of us not so much, but I will say that none of us are perfect or measure up without Christ’s direct help and enabling of it in our lives. I think it is with that knowledge that James begins in v.2 of his letter with a statement that says that troubling times are to be for the Christian a source of joy, and then describes the process of how God makes us holy through our suffering, that he sanctifies us.
It should not come as a surprise that our response to trials is where our depth of holiness can be readily seen by others who are ALWAYS watching. This requires a level of self-awareness and a level of humility to accept the things that the Lord brings your way to deal with. Throwing a temper tantrum every time something goes wrong for you is one example of how one displays the fruit that they have been cultivating. Another is harassing people until they agree with you for whatever reason, through whatever tone. Our goal, remember, is to do what the Lord wants, not what we want, and showing our attitude is bad by these or other things is a clear indication that something is wrong in your walk with the Lord. Another signal that James covers here is Doubt, and it is usually expressed in pride, like “I seriously DOUBT that…” or “That’s YOUR interpretation,” both of which are expressions of pride. The first calls into question the character of the original speaker, the second calls into question both his integrity and his accuracy, particular in dealing with the Scripture. After many years of observing this kind of behaviour, I can tell you that I think it expresses doubt, because if the individual was certain about his or her own assertion, he would actually enter into meaningful discussion instead of hurling this like a gauntlet of warning not to discuss the issue further.
Our study this time revolves around the concept of a contrast that James is making between those who have faith and are therefore humble in spirit versus the proud, all made-up characters of those who in reality have nothing but doubt to fall back upon in life, or they would not be so proud I think. What this comes down to is that WHO you place your faith in is important. Those who place their faith in Christ and admit that they cannot [fill in the blank] without Him will be satisfied by Him. Those who mistakenly place their faith in themselves or some other source in an attempt to reach some deceptive form of enlightenment including just feeling good about yourself for its own sake will be sadly disappointed, and even risk being broken and shattered by the trials that EVERYONE faces whether they like it or not. It is all part of that unseen realm that we do not notice from day to day but would be supreme fools to deny its existence.
I broke this section down for study as follows:
KV 7, 8: Faith in trials is for our perfection, but the proud will fail
For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
1-4: The engine leading to holiness
5-8: Faith is required in our daily walks with Christ
9-11: Rich and poor alike are to glory in God alone
12-18: Reasons for perseverance in trials
One of the sharp differences between James and Paul is that Paul takes the time to define theological concepts, because he is reaching out to Gentiles. James assumes a familiarity with them, and it results in Paul’s works being very theological in nature, whereas James seems more concerned with the practicality of what he is saying. Paul took the time to define how and why trials are the mechanism that God uses to make His people holy, but James actually begins by stating it as a fact and moving on from there.
KV 7, 8: Faith in trials is for our perfection, but the proud will fail
For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
Whereas Paul taught the theory and reasoning behind this, James just jumps right in and assumes it. Based on his audience, this makes a great deal of sense, because these were all Jewish believers, who would have been taught some of this since childhood in ancient Judaism. The Old Testament teaches patience in trials for humans as well, as some of those who were there when I preached on the book of Job will remember. The short version of what we looked at as it applies here is that God called Job a “blameless and upright man,” one that turned his heart away from doing evil, and yet this blameless and upright man had to suffer and be “perfected” by the Lord. Beloved, we are in that very same boat. We are now walking in the righteousness of Christ, and in HIM are perfect. (It is too bad we spend most of our time trying to make it on our own!). And yet, we must still suffer through trial to perfect our faith in Him.
Look at what our key verse is talking about. Referencing the “one who doubts,” it tells us that such a one should not expect anything from the Lord because he or she is not depending on God for their purification. And so we are, much of the time, double-minded people, and given to instability. Fortunately, James is writing his letter as a corrective for that.
1-4: The engine leading to holiness
In the first four verses of the chapter, James describes this process, which I have monikered “engine” for metaphorical effect. Certainly God could simply make us holy without any visible action, he is almighty. However, I think there are reasons for this, including teaching us the value of suffering and patience in the process, and I don’t think those are the only reasons for it. Let’s get into the text and have a look at it.
1: James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings.
- Okay, for all you movie fans out there, this is not an Ian Fleming novel about 007. James was a “bond-servant.” Any guesses as to what Greek word that might be? If you guessed doulos, you’re right…James saw himself as a slave of Jesus Christ, and this was a man that knew Him “according to the flesh” as his older brother. It is worth mentioning the dynamic between siblings as a classic thing here. All of my siblings are younger than I am, and I can tell you, they know I am not their master, nor would they willingly submit themselves or their wills to me, and that is as it should be. I would be a TERRIBLE master, but that’s because I am nothing but a sinner saved by His grace. James was a willing servant of his older brother because he knew his older brother was actually God in the flesh.
- This is James’ greeting: To the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad. Think about that greeting. It says a couple of things in its language. First, it says that James had a very Old-Testament way of looking at things. It should not be lost on any of us that a reference like this to Israel in the New Testament is symbolic of God’s chosen people, and that is the church. However, it should also fit from the dating of this letter that most of the believers were Jewish at this point in history. There is no mention of any of the Gentiles, or the council of Jerusalem, or any of the issues that were discussed at said council, so we can infer it was written before those events happened or there were many Gentile converts in the church.
- The word he chooses to greet his brothers and sisters is also interesting to me. It is a form of the Greek Chairos, or in another word, “Rejoice!” It was a customary greeting for believers then, and should be one for us now! I like how Paul put it in Philippians 4:4—”Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, rejoice!” That even was turned into a chorus I have sung from time to time.
2: Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials,
- We can tell from his writing style that James is a no-nonsense kind of guy, because he gets right to the point of his letter. There are no flowery greetings, and no wasted words. He is succinct to a point, and sometimes, we could take a lesson from that. I know I tend to try to observe social niceties, and there are times where it really isn’t called for. James knew that and cut straight to the chase. Let’s pick up that chase.
- James starts with the phrase “count it all joy,” and he is literally saying to consider what he is about to describe as an actual source of joy. What is he saying we should find as a source of Joy? Divine testing in any form the Lord should bring into our lives.
- What’s that you say? Your trials are too hard? The Lord didn’t do that to you, it was the devil? Well, you’re right…but with God’s permission. Let’s look for a moment at the archetype case: Job.
- Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them. The LORD said to Satan, “From where do you come?” Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “From roaming about on the earth and walking around on it.” The LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.” Then Satan answered the LORD, “Does Job fear God for nothing? Have You not made a hedge about him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face.” Then the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him.” So Satan departed from the presence of the LORD. (Job 1:6-12)
- Remember that we live with an unseen reality all around us, and that reality MUST be acknowledged or nothing makes any sense. In failing even to acknowledge this, you deny any possible answer to the question of why evil exists in the world, among other things.
- The prospect that God is perfecting us through our suffering actually rather gives MEANING to all of the tough things that we go through. Many of you know I have a murdered friend named Angela. Can you imagine what kind of trial she faced as her assailant sunk the butcher knife into her back? However, even though that trial ended her life on earth, I have no doubt she is now in heaven with Christ. Or all of her friends, and the anger and sorrow we all faced? Some to this day have not processed that pain and have not grown because of it. Some of us have done a bit better on that front. What I can tell you is that our suffering, no matter on what level it occurs, always brings glory to God. Angela Tong died at the hands of a knife-wielding lunatic. And because of her death, the entire city of Ottawa that was listening to her funeral on CFRA Radio that day heard Angela give her testimony and the strongest gospel I think I may have ever heard in her own words with her own voice from beyond the grave by reason of technology. And many came to Christ, I have no doubt…and her father Sev was one of them, as he acknowledged at her funeral.
- Beloved, those are hard things for me to remember and write and talk about…but I see that it is a strong teaching tool that the Lord Himself equipped ME with personally as I suffered through that event. It will at some point be an source of REAL joy, as James suggests.
- Job lost all of his wealth, all of his property, and all of his family because God allowed the errant accuser to test the goodness of God and how His relationship with His servants could not be broken through the worst suffering imaginable. And in every case of a true servant that has suffered in their troubles before God, this remains the case, despite our enemy’s best (or worst) efforts, depending on your point of view. We, for our part, are to consider it a source of Joy. My brother from India, John Paul was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. That is one of the worst prognoses that one can receive, and John, an engineer, knew it. I was there with him and his family as we prayed for God’s will to be done, and do you know what his concern was? That he wouldn’t miss the lesson that God was teaching him through this sickness as God took his life from him. Beloved, that’s REAL faith. I still pray for his wife Hannah and his son Martin, who have moved back to India, as we should. Count it joy, no matter what it is.
3: knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.
- Such faith in trials does in fact have a real purpose, other than to mess with our heads, which is really a lie of the enemy. Everything a believer experiences, good or bad, is in some way to glorify God. Here, James gives us the purpose of our trials—they are to test our faith. Now, before you get all weird about the language used, let’s go to the Greek and see what it actually says, because I’m sure you will be surprised. The word is actually dokimion, which doesn’t just mean to test, but to approve by testing. Tests are nothing if they are not passed, and we are meant to apply our convictions here to overcome the trial, much like Christ overcame the cross. You will recall that particular “test” killed Him, with the effect that His death atoned for all of OUR sins. Now, He was God, of course, but He was also human and understands our frailty. Our faith is meant to produce endurance. Paul also says the very same thing:
- No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it. (1 Cor. 10:13)
- That word for “endure” is the same in both texts, though the forms are different. In this verse the word is hupomone (the noun form), meaning a patient remaining under the circumstances that require the endurance. My kids can tell you about my lectures on disciplinary subjects, for example. They have had to sit patiently through more than a few. Besides, for the believer, it is a good thing. How do you know you have real faith unless you pass the test? (Don’t worry, you WILL fail. HE will not.)
4: And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
- See? That suffering is NOT without purpose. It can have a “perfect” result. The word for all of you Greek fans is none other than teleios, completion. To reach the desired end. Whose desire? God’s, and NOT yours necessarily. The word for “result” is to me more interesting. It is the Greek ergon, meaning “work.” Not a result, but a process by which an end is achieved! It is more etymologically similar to “deed” than “result,” but the NAS was trying to make sense of a somewhat difficult passage to interpret, and this is where in my opinion that the translators are trying to do some interpretive work for you. I do not believe it is malicious, and it isn’t entirely wrong, either. It is used here, a little less concretely, of an ethical work or action of humans. However, when that endurance has a chance to act within you, it “perfects” [teleios] you and “completes” you. That latter word for “complete” is holokleros, to be whole and sound in every part. It goes without saying that this is all in Christ, without whom we are broken into shards.
It is this “engine” as I have called it that is responsible for God achieving real holiness in our lives as His children. This is a difficult concept and truth for many to accept, because let’s face it—who really wants to suffer? Not me, and I bet not you, not if you’re human. We all like our own comfort, and many times, it is only by discomfiting us that our disquiet leads us to the holiness that God wants in our lives.
In other words, it is sometimes a result of our own bad (or very rarely good) choices that creates the suffering that brings us to the end of our own resources so that we can ONLY rely on God to make the changes to our character that we are unable to make because of our own unwillingness. And that happens more than we are aware of, and certainly more than we want to admit. But we MUST go through it, because God wants His people to learn to be holy willingly, and align their wills with His. And that, my friends, takes faith, that firm persuasion or opinion held, does it not? In fact, it is a requirement for our daily walk with Him, and that is our very next paragraph.
5-8: Faith is required in our daily walks with Christ
Faith, to define the concept officially here, is the Greek word pistis, and means a conviction held closely, a firm persuasion, or an opinion held in such a way as to move you to action along a chosen path. The word itself is found in three forms in Scripture: Here, we see the noun pistis, in other places, we see the verb form pisteuo, which we translate into English as the word “belief,” so it isn’t a different thing from faith, Faith is the noun, belief is the action of the noun. The final type of use we see is an adjective, which translates to “faithful,” which literally means “filled with faith.” That we need all three forms of this in our lives is unquestionable; but this is NOT where James starts. He seems to assume that his reader already has it and knows what it is and how it motivates the reader.
5: But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.
- Instead, James begins with a statement about lacking wisdom. In the statement, he recognizes that believers can lack wisdom. It isn’t hard to understand. Last week, I used myself as an example of this. If you look, there is no verse in Scripture anywhere that says Gerry will marry Susan and that they will have three children together. Yet, that is what happened, and as difficult as that has been at times, I and Sue will have to admit that God is behind all of it. How did we arrive at this conclusion? We prayed about it, and we asked God for His wisdom and to lead us by His providence, which He did! It wasn’t easy, but it WAS simple in that we obeyed Him.
- James identifies this very thing. If you are lacking wisdom, you can ask God what His will for whatever your situation is. He WILL tell you via His providence, and lead you that way in the way that you should go. I’m being extremely brief here, but this is the essence of it.
- I will, however, offer a word of warning, especially in light of what my old Charismaniac friends told me about how God would lead me in the way by speaking in His voice to me, and giving me direct revelation as to where to go, what to do, like that. I never once actually heard an audible voice, not even inside my head. The only voice I heard was my own, sometimes inside my head only. God speaks through His word, and has since its completion. Previous to that, he spoke through His apostles, but we have no reason to believe that continued past the Apostles. We looked in very specific detail at that when we went through 1 Corinthians 10-14, and I’m not going to repeat that all here, but I will add a warning. If you think you hear God speaking to you in an audible voice, please see a doctor, and quickly. And if you think that God has given you a vision, I have the same statement for you. Seek a medical professional. Or just stop making stuff up. Either or works.
- Why ask the Lord? He will TELL you by His providence, and by His ACTUAL servants and the Scriptures, the 66 books of the Holy Bible, what you need to know. He WILL do it. Just be ready for the answer, because it is usually not what we want to hear.
6: But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.
- And here is the connection to faith, that firm persuasion or opinion held strongly enough to move you to action. Faith here is to be held without doubt. It is important we define faith properly. Here is why. People today see faith as something it is not, akin to voodoo or something like that. We have this mystical thing called “faith” that gives us (usually) what we want in terms of possession, outcome, desire, like that. But this isn’t faith, it’s wishful thinking. Faith drives your real-time actions. If you aren’t prepared to act on it, you don’t really believe it. And Believe, as you will recall, is the verb form of faith, that is, faith made into action.
- Doubt is the monkey wrench thrown into the gears of that. It stops faith in its tracks. It is not the opposite of faith per se, but it is like an inoculation against it. It is like the matter-antimatter combo. It destroys faith on contact, and annihilates everything around it. The picture James uses here is like sea surge, which is whipped up by the wind and driven by external forces. If figurative language, that is what we are when we allow doubt to drive, so to speak. We must not entertain doubt as a possibility, or we are done. Literally.
7: For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord,
- THAT man. What man? The one who doubts from the immediate context. THAT man should not to expect to receive anything from the Lord. Hey, James’ words, not mine. And why is that?
8: being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
- Because that man is double-minded. Interestingly, the Greek here is dipsuchos, or “two-souled.” John Bunyan in his timeless work, The Pilgrim’s Progress, describes such a person with the rather creative name, “Mister Facing Both Ways.” It is really a subtle form of idolatry, and here is why—the two-souled individual is trying to serve two Gods in the final analysis. He says that he is a Christian, but his behaviour says something else entirely. Remember those words of Jesus in Matthew 7:15-20? Speaking of false apostles, our Lord Jesus said we would know them by their fruits. This is where all false teaching starts, Beloved. It begins with the simple declaration of “I want…” and continues out to heresy and beyond, making such a person, and I return to quote James here, “unstable in all his ways.”
- I am not speaking of not knowing what you want, that’s a different discussion, but this is a case of “I know what God wants, and I don’t want that, and I’m going to maintain this ‘Christian’ façade while I pursue my own goals,” and this isn’t always at a completely conscious level. Things like, and I am decidedly speaking in a form of euphemism here, “Car Thieves for Christ” come from. Beloved, Christ changes our nature when He causes us to be born from above. Maybe you were once a “car thief,” but the Apostle Paul was very clear on this, as is James. Paul said, “Such were some of you…” (1 Cor. 6:11a), and the past tense in that verse indicates that it was IN THE PAST, which was crucified with Christ. If you are still “stealing cars,” you are trying to serve your heavenly master Christ AND your other master, Lucifer. And beloved, Jesus told us: No one can serve two masters (Matt. 6:24, Luke 16:13). You will eventually choose the one your heart is really with, and that will almost always be the wrong one in this choice. Why live with that instability?
- Instead, there is another way. Repent and believe the Gospel. Jesus lived the life you should have lived, and then willingly and knowingly gave up that life and died the death that should be yours all so that you would not have to. He set you free from the penalty of sin, and rose from the dead to prove that its power in our lives is broken. Chose Him. Choose life.
And yet we will not, and that is why James was compelled, in my opinion, to write this letter. Belief, or faith, drives our actions. What you believe in reality is what you will act upon. Those who believe Christ will act that way. Those who in reality, despite what they say, will NOT. James isn’t done with this topic, so stay tuned, we will see this material again, because it is absolutely and critically foundational for the Christian. For now, we will move on.
9-11: Rich and poor alike are to glory in God alone
James uses the previous thought unit to leap into the idea of differences in class of people here, so we will follow. It is easy and natural for us to make divisions among ourselves for various reasons, and some of it is legitimate. For example, I am a theologian. Not everyone thinks that theology matters like I do.. As a result, I choose to hang around with people that will uplift me and build me up in my faith, and the opposite is also true in others. Have you ever heard the phrase, “Birds of a feather flock together?” This is what it is referring to—commonality in fellowship creates bonds. I’ll go back to my car thief analogy. What would you want to bet that said car thief knows OTHER car thieves? I know I wouldn’t put down money against that probability. And the same holds true for all such worldly divisions.
Except for Christians. We are commanded in Scripture that EVERY person is to do their level best to glorify God in their thoughts, words, and deeds as a testimony to Him who has bought us with His own precious blood, shed on the cross for all of our sins. And we are to glorify Him ALONE, and not others for that work.
Theologian A. W. Tozer wrote a book, Who Put Jesus On the Cross? In that book, he runs through the various options we have. Some say it was the Romans. There is truth in that, it was a Roman cross, Roman soldiers that administered the crucifixion. Some say, Wait a minute, it was the Jews that demanded His crucifixion! THEY put Jesus on the Cross. And again, there is truth in that thinking. But wait, there’s more: why did Jesus die on the cross? The stated reason in Scripture is “to die for the sins of the world.” So really, WE put Jesus on the cross. Personally, with our sinning. Again, there is truth in that. But who decided that it was the thing to do to pay for the sins of the world? Well, the triune God did. God asked, “Who shall I send? Who will go for us?” in Isaiah 6:8. I believe that Isaiah echoed the words of another, God the Son, when HE answered, “Here am I. Send ME,” in the latter part of that verse. Jesus put Jesus on the cross. And for that single, selfless, redemptive, once-for-all act, He saved all those that will ever believe in Him.
As a result of THAT singular choice, all people everywhere should give glory to Him alone, because He is the one who earned the right to receive it. Let’s look at the text though.
9: But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position;
- I can hear the words as I read this verse. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:3, Luke 6:20) Then I hear the words of another verse, again the Lord Jesus speaking: “‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich)…” (Rev. 2:9a) It is the poor of this world that God has given the kingdom of heaven to, Beloved. It is not about money or even the lac of it—it is about that unwavering faith that Jesus died in my place and I have nothing but what He gives me, and will DO nothing but what He tells me. This is not about being filled with pride about our position in Christ, as some have said and put into practice.
- I once saw a Facebook page that illustrated this point incredibly well. The Page called itself, “I’m Proud to Be a Christian.” Why? We did nothing to earn it, God chose us for reasons all His own that He has not explained to us, nor is He required to do so. That’s nothing but hubris. [I recently learned that some of the biggest so-called “Christian” pages on Facebook are run by troll farms.]. And pride, Beloved, is the original sin of Lucifer that got him bounced from heaven.
- No, Beloved. Instead of feeling that pride, instead be thankful to God that He has chosen YOU, beyond all human reason. Give Him thanks, and praise His name!
10: and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away.
- Again, this is not a verse scolding the rich person for having the money that God gave them. Instead, James tells such a person to focus on how they are nothing compared to our blessed Saviour, and that we, like the grass, will wither and perish in our time, and that time is determined by God. Give thanks to Him! Praise His name!
11: For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away.
- Your riches, such as they may be, are passing away. If you are His, He will give you TRUE riches after. Your poverty is also passing away. He will give you true riches after. Why then look at your economic circumstances, or political, or educational, or national, or whatever? It is ALL passing away, to be followed by true riches and blessing for you personally, custom-made for you. Why pursue that which is temporary? Like where we live, or how much money we have in the bank, or the amount of stuff we own? Beloved, NONE of it matters except that we be as faithful as we can be with the things he has entrusted to us. You have a home? Take care of it. You have children? Raise them as well as you can and teach them to respect and worship God. You have money? Praise God, use it to glorify Him! You can speak well? Speak for Him! You can think well? Think for Him! And About Him! And in fellowship with Him…and with others who are doing the same. That’s called being a true disciple.
This seems parenthetical here, but it is not. We will see this material again, as I said, and when we get there, I will try to remember to remind you I said these things here.
Now interestingly, up to this point, James has only talked about our trials, and the things we should be doing about them. Next, he will, by imperative, tell us the reasons we need to persevere in trials.
12-18: Reasons for perseverance in trials
I am just going to jump right in, because James does a better job than I can bridging the thought units he’s using.
12: Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.
- The very first reason that James lists here is that it is a blessing to persevere in a trial! That word in Greek for “blessing” indicates not only the character of being blessed or happy of the man remaining under the trial but is used in the sense of the nature of that which is the highest good, according to Vine. He is blest, and blest with the best! But to get this kind of blessing, one must “persevere under trial,” a prospect that not many sane people relish. The Greek text there is hupomenei peirasmon, a remaining under a trial or test meant to approve the one under trial. Kind of like high school, college, and university students write examinations to approve them in their subject knowledge, but what is being tested for approval here is one’s character.
- And see what happens when he passes the test! He receives a reward! The crown, that is stephanos, the victor’s crown in the games, which was a laurel of leaves that one wore as recognition of their victory, but not just any crown! It is the crown of zoe, or life in an absolute sense, life as GOD has life, and has freely given to those who pass the test of remaining under trial. The Lord promises this to all those who love [agapeo] Him. Look, that alone is proper incentive to remain in the trials that God gives to us for our perfection. Yet we don’t…and James will explain.
13: Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.
- The Scripture from the very beginning is clear that God is not the author of sin, nor will he directly cause humans to do so. However, I am reminded of that verse we looked at in Job 1 earlier. There is an unseen reality that we live in, and we MUST acknowledge that. If we fail to do so, we will always wonder why bad things happen, and no answer than can be given will ever be enough to satisfy us. I’ve seen that, and it is very sad when it happens.
- James here is acknowledging that reality, and is telling us there are rules behind that reality. God, he tells us, for example, cannot be “tempted by evil.” This is a compound Greek word that simply means “is not able to be tempted.” It has no relation to God, and evil and temptation cannot enter His character, and He is not able to experience it. It’s funny. I used to work with a self-proclaimed atheist named Chris, who was a Carleton grad about 20 years before I was from the very same biology program. By then, he was Dr. Chris [and I’m not using his last name on purpose], and we had some…well, pretty extreme conversations about the gospel in the lab where we both worked. I can tell you that he heard it, and in spades, and my entire fellowship prayed for him, too! He used to ask me things like if God was really all-powerful. I answered him “of course”, and then he tried to catch me in that silly logic trap (which is not logical) about how many angels could then dance on the head of a pin. I was surprised about his theological knowledge at times, because he had clearly thought about it. His argument was that if God was really all powerful, then His servants would not be limited by time and space, so all of them could dance on the head of a pin…otherwise none of them could, and God was not really all-powerful. I pointed out that was like trying to paint the air the colour three. He was logically equating things that could not and should not be equated and was making what are called “category errors” in theology and logic. Then I mounted another microscopic wasp for display. And yes, it had to be done under a microscope. Anyway, Chris once asked me if there was anything God could not do, probably with the intent of trying to play more logic games. He got more than he bargained for in my answer.
- Yes, of course there are things that God cannot do. The Bible says so, I said. His eyebrows both shot up, and he asked to see that, so I fished my pocket KJV out and showed him a couple of verses. Titus 1:2 came immediately to mind, so I showed him that God cannot lie. I advance further without scriptural support at this point, because I didn’t know where to find a supporting verse, but it was pretty undeniable, God cannot SIN. He gave me that one, and he left me alone to mount more microscopic wasps and write out their identification labels under my microscope. However, I could have easily turned to this verse and added that God cannot be tempted. Further He tempts no one to sin, we do that all on our own. Why am I talking about Chris? Well, James was as well, though he didn’t know it.
14: But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.
- Sin is a principle unique to all humans, and it is directly related to our desires. I find it interesting that for all his humanistic atheism, Chris admitted that he was a sinner, and even told me that his parents were Quakers, and he had grown up in those kinds of meetings. We had some common experiences, though I have never been a Quaker, and we had some laughs about things we had seen. For all of his bluster, and his outright denial of deity, I don’t think he was being honest with himself, but in those days, I’m not certain I was being honest with or about myself either.
- It was around this time, I started to see the pattern that James is describing about sinful behaviour in myself in a few different areas. I was not a happy person, I was living life as a hypocrite, acting all righteous, but not really seeking that righteousness of Christ that Paul talks about in Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ, nevertheless, I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me; and the life that I now live in the flesh, I live [literally] by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Many over the years, most notably Hudson Taylor, talk about this as the great exchange, but Paul wrote about it directly in this verse. James is coming to that point later in the book, and again, I will try to remember to identify when we get there.
- Here is the pattern in black and white: Temptation is an enticement to satisfy your own desires regardless of what that means to anyone including yourself. You are enticed by your own “lust” as James put it here, and the Greek word is epithumia, a strong and passionate desire. That lust causes you to do whatever it takes to satisfy it, without consideration of who you hurt along the way. For some, this means they don’t care who they beat up when they are drunk, physically or verbally. For some, it means that if your wife isn’t there, the lady you picked up at the convention in the bar will do. For others, it means you lie to cheat them out of money, property, or belongings of some kind. And the whole human race is full of this, because we gave place to it in the garden of Eden…and it changed us, perhaps even visibly, though we do not know that for sure. That is the process of temptation. If the story ended here, it would be tragic enough. The real tragedy is that it does not.
15: Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.
- You see, when that strong desire bears fruit (which you will recall is observable evidence!), the little conception brings about the birth of full-blown sin, that is, action of thought, word, or deed that is in direct violation of God’s moral law, also known as the Ten Commandments. And beloved, these laws are immutable, and the penalty for violating any one of them is DEATH. As in YOURS.
- Now one might ask if it is really worth going down that road at all, and they would be right to ask that. It clearly is not. The problem is that we as sinners are powerless before it to prevent or impede it permanently. We may be able to delay it, or modify our behaviour to avoid it, but these are simply temporary bandages for a mortal wound that is bleeding out.
16: Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.
- Lust brings sin. Sin brings death. For the unrepentant, Death brings eternal suffering in hell. And don’t tell me that hell doesn’t exist, Jesus said a lot about its reality, and even described it. That is the destiny of all humans unless God directly intervenes on their behalf. Any other version of this set of conditions is a lie, and it is told to you so that you will end up in that eternal suffering in hell, and we don’t want that for you. Turn to Christ and away from your sin. The Scripture word for that is “repent.” Believe that He took your place on the cross and the if you will simply reckon that to your account and believe that, you will be saved from that eternal fate. The Scripture word for that is “The Gospel.” So repent and believe the gospel, folks. You heard it hear, and you heard it clearly.
17: Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.
- James is still giving reasoning here, and it is worth noting. Has something good happened to you? Then thank God for it! It ultimately came from Him, regardless of the means. Have you received a gift that was simply perfect for the circumstances? Again, praise God for that, regardless of the means by which it arrived, because it came from Him in an ultimate sense. I sense a practical example is needed. Do you have a high-paying job? Thank God for that high-paying job! But Gerry, I hear you say, I got that job by my education, skillset, and proven ability to use those skills! I hear you, but I have one question: Who gave you those skills in the first place? Was it the teachers at college or university? Perhaps. But who gave you your brain, body, and ability to apply those skills? You can deny God was involved if you like, but you are denying that very same reality we have been speaking about in this study, the same one taught to us by Job in his book.
- The phrase “Father of lights” is an ancient Jewish title for God, according to Dr. John MacArthur in his New Testament commentary on James. It is in fact a reference to God as Creator, that is the giver of light by means of the sun and moon. As glorious as those are, those are temporary, and God Himself will not fade, and with Him, there can be no variation in brightness or shifting shadow because God does not vacillate His position on anything. There is no “shade of meaning” with God, and there is no fading away. He is literally eternal, and he is literally light in His nature.
18: In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.
- James gives us the story of our beginnings as His people as well. He tells us that this Father of lights brought us forth in the exercising of His will. Vine says this is to directly will or volitionally desire to bring into existence. Beloved, it is God’s will that we exist. What an honour and privilege that we have in being His. Only the suicidal would hold God in contempt by saying He has no right, and worse, it is like the clay trying to call the potter to account, as told by Isaiah, Jeremiah, and others of the Prophets, and the Apostle Paul himself. That…isn’t going to work out so well for the clay in the end.
- By exercising His will, this Father of lights brought us forth [rendered gives birth in v.15] into existence by the “word of truth,” the how-it-happens part of the process. The Greek here is logō aletheias, which can literally be translated as “truth’s word,” meaning the Scriptures, the Word of God, which is of course, Christ Himself. Yes, there is a great deal of metaphorical equation going on there, but I find it compelling and beautiful. We are born again by the Word of God, Beloved. Christ makes us to be so, by will of the Father, and then He sends the Holy Spirit to live in us and change our nature, sanctifying us as we walk with Him. Wait…isn’t that where we all came in this evening? Yes, it is.
- Then James says something rather interesting, and that’s my gift for understatement again. “…so that we might be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.” There are a number of ways to understand that, but I will give you the way I tend to think about it as the most balanced way of viewing it that I can see, and it took me a while to get to this point. James was writing to the believers of his day as perhaps the brightest and best of the believers that the Lord would save, not that there have not been bright lights since. These formed the “first fruits,” if you think about it. Are we included? Maybe, but I cannot say that about myself for certain, and I won’t debate on the topic, because it really isn’t theologically significant in the big picture. What I do know is that when he speaks of “His creatures” though, He is speaking of those real believers that He has caused to be born again to that living hope in which we all sit. That means that we are all part of God’s new creation by faith, and we are waiting for Him to make all things new.
That’s a good spot to leave the text for this study. Theology in action is what I would say about James so far, and as we move forward into the book deeper, you’ll see that moniker will hold.
That’s what I saw in our text this evening, and next study, we will look at 1:19-27. That is a little shorter of a text, but it is what made up a section of the book in my reading, so that’s why we will look at that.