The Book of James is unique, interesting, and essential within the Biblical narrative. James reflects on the nature of success, the importance of wisdom, and the challenge of practically living a faith that is more than just talk. In the opening verses, we see who James is, who he is writing to, and are introduced to James’ focus on a faith that lives, breathes, and acts.
James 1: Introduction
Turn to James with me, if you would; and we’re going to do this fantastic book. It’s a very simple book with a very simple message, very similar to Revelation, actually, with a similar message to Revelation.
The book James talks about winning. How do you win at life? There are three Ws associated with this book: Winning, walking, and wisdom.
James is about how to win at life, and you win at life by walking in faith and the wisdom of God. That’s how you win at life.
And you lose at life by walking by sight, walking in your own strength and the wisdom of the world.
And that’s what this whole book is going to be telling us as we go through here. This is what the wisdom of God looks like, and here’s what the wisdom of the world looks like.
Interestingly enough, the focus here in this book is on the three things you can control. You can control who you trust, and we’re going to be talking all through this book about faith.
You can control your perspective. And especially in this first chapter, but all through the book, it’s going to be talking about perspective.
And you can control your actions.
And interestingly enough, there’s this wheel of think, feel, act. And there’s a whole lot of debate on which starts what. But one school of thought is that if you want to change the way you think, you do something because actions affect your thinking.
This is one of the reasons I’m supportive of this mission-partner idea because one of the best ways to get people involved and changing the way they think about, let’s say, serving others is to get them to do something. Actually put them to work stacking chairs or something like that.
We’re going to see a whole lot about doing. Doing things. Taking care of orphans and things like that.
This book is a unified book. It has a very consistent theme. So let’s just dig right into it.
Who is James?
James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad: Greetings.
My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials—
So this is James, a bondservant of God. Tradition is—and I think it’s fairly well held that this is James the head elder of the Jerusalem church. He was also the half-brother of Jesus, who, of course, was not a believer in Jesus during most of his earthly ministry. Apparently, he came to believe that Jesus was who he said he was after he was crucified and rose from the dead. We don’t know how that happened. Someday perhaps we will. But he’s clearly the head elder in Jerusalem, the head elder of the church.
When we get to the Acts 15 Council, where this fantastic, historical event took place, where there was a decision that Gentiles did not have to follow Jewish custom—a monumental event—the two key figures that are siding with Paul in that episode are James, who’s the head elder, and Peter, who’s the head apostle. And James and Peter both say Paul’s right. It’s by grace through faith. You don’t have to do all this circumcision and follow all these things. We’ll do that. The Gentiles do not have to do that.
That was a ground-breaking event, that Acts 15 Council.
Who is he writing to?
And he’s writing to the twelve tribes scattered abroad. So James is the head elder of the Jerusalem church.
The Jerusalem church was a megachurch. We know there’s at least 5,000 that came to Christ because when the Pentecost happened, and they’re preaching, they talk about these thousands of people. I’ve heard estimates that there were ten thousand people in the Jerusalem church. And James is the head elder. And he’s writing this letter to the Jews that are scattered abroad.
There was a tremendous amount of persecution that came in to believing Jews, Jews who had chosen Messiah. Obviously, we know about persecution because they persecuted Christ, and then they persecuted his followers. We see that in Acts. They’re going in and telling them, “Do not preach in this name anymore!” And the Apostles say, “You tell me who we should obey, God or you?” And they go out rejoicing because they were persecuted.
Well, this persecution resulted in people getting scattered abroad. But they’re still a part of the Jerusalem church, or they’ve gone out from the Jerusalem church; and now they’re going through trials. I mean, it’s difficult, right? You’re being persecuted for what you believe.
And so James is writing this to them to lift them up, to uphold them.
to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad: Greetings.
My brethren, count it all joy—
What’s the purpose of the book?
Now, this is really important. What does he mean by my brethren? Does he mean my fellow Jews? Is he writing this to Jews scattered abroad to get them saved? Or is he writing this to Jews scattered abroad who have already believed in Jesus, and he’s lifting them up? It’s really important.
If he’s writing it to get them saved, we’re going to have one view of the book; and if he’s writing it to lift them up, we’re going to have a different view of the book.
Well, it’s the latter. He’s writing to lift them up. I can show you that in a couple of simple ways. But it’s going to become apparent as we go through the book as well.
James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ—
That’s clear enough, isn’t it? I’m a bondservant of the Lord Jesus Christ. So James is not writing as a Jewish leader trying to get people into Judaism. He’s writing as a Jewish leader trying to get people who are already Jews—twelve tribes scattered abroad, right? He’s writing to Jews. He’s writing to Jews who have believed in Messiah.
Look at 2:1. This is the only other time that the word Jesus shows up in James. Obviously, if he was writing to Jews trying to get them to believe in Jesus, it would show up a little more, don’t you think?
And it says, My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ— Whose Lord? Our Lord Jesus Christ. Our brethren. So, the brethren all share the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Well, does he ever change audiences as he goes through the book of James? The word brethren shows up 15 times in this book. Let’s run through them real quick.
1:2. My brethren count it all joy—
1:19. So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear—
2:1. My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ with partiality.
2:5. Listen, my beloved brethren, has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith—
2:14. What does it prophet, my brethren—
3:1. My brethren, let not many of you become teachers—
3:10. My brethren, these things ought not to be so— Talking about blessing and cursing.
3:12. Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives or a grapevine bear figs?
4:11. Do not speak evil of one another, brethren.
5:7. Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord.
5:9. Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold the Judge is standing at the door! My brethren, take the prophets who spoke the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering—
5:12. But above all, my brethren…let your yes be yes and your no be no.
And then, finally, 5:19, Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back…he’s turned a sinner from the error of his way.
So we’re talking about brethren all through this book. We’re not trying to believe in Jesus because they already have the Lord Jesus as their Lord. What we’re trying to do is build them up because they’re enduring suffering. They’re going through persecution.
Count persecution as joy
What are they supposed to do when they go through persecution? They’re supposed to count it all joy.
Now is this easy to do? It is easy to go through difficulty and say, “Man, this is awesome!”? That is not natural, right? You don’t have to really tell people to do stuff that’s natural. They just do it.
This is something that takes work. It’s difficult. This is choosing a perspective.
What we’re going to be doing as we go through this is we’re going to be looking at the difficult thing of choosing a true perspective about reality that goes against what we feel and what we’re currently seeing.
My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, various difficulties.
This word joy is the word chara. Chara is a derivative of the root verb chairo. I’m going to give you a couple of verses to flip to. Matthew 2:10, just so you can see some other applications of the word.
This is the Magi, and it says, When they saw the star—of Bethlehem—they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.
So joy there is chara, the noun, and the rejoiced is the chairo, the verb. So they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.
So they were looking for something, and they found it. And it made them really glad.
Another one is Matthew 28:8. This is after the resurrection. So they went out quickly from the tomb with—two things: Fear and great joy—
Usually you don’t think about happy and fear in the same context, do you? But this is something where something unexpected happened. Their hopes had been dashed that Jesus the Messiah would take the throne and rule Israel. And now all the sudden, he’s not in the tomb anymore.
Well, what in the world has happened? There’s great fear but also great joy. Something that they weren’t expecting, beyond hope. Now something fantastic has happened.
So that’s the idea. I’m getting what I want. I’m accumulating what I longed for. Something beyond what I hoped is happening to me.
What’s in it for us?
So, when trials come into our lives, we’re supposed to say, okay, I’m getting exactly what I want.
How in the world do you choose that perspective? Well, let’s go on.
knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.
Well, that’s not going to do it for me. Having patience is not something that is one of my deepest longings. Let’s see if we get anything better than that.
But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
Now that sounds better. I think I can get that, that I become everything that I’m supposed to be. But what does that get me? Why would I want that?
Well, we can skip over to verse 12, here, and it says, Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.
Ah! Now you’re talking my language. Difficulty produces patience or endurance which gets me to the point where I become everything I’m supposed to be, and that’s how you win at life. Now I’m interested because I love winning.
Everybody loves winning
I love winning. And you know what? Everybody else in the world does too. If you get involved in electoral politics, everybody knows this. If you can make it feel like your candidate’s winning, you get a 5, 10 point add to your polling because everybody wants to be on the winning team.
If you want to go and look and see which jerseys are selling the most, just look and see who won the most recent championship. There’ll be all kinds of people that are jumping on board to that team. Why? Because they want to be on the winning team.
If you see a team that’s having a really good season, the stands fill up. Why do the stands fill up? Everybody likes to be a winner.
If the team’s on a huge losing streak, the stands empty out because people don’t like to lose. We like to win. And this is how you win. You win by becoming everything God has for you to be.
Now this is interesting. Again, we’re choosing perspective. And the wisdom of the world says, you win by doing what? How do you win according to the world? Accumulate as much stuff as possible, right? The more stuff you have to pass on to somebody else when you die, the more taxes you pay when you die, the more you won! That’s the wisdom of the world. He who dies with the most toys wins.
Well, that’s kind of dumb. I mean, apparently dumb because you can’t take it with you, right?
But the wisdom of God says, you win not by not what you accumulate, but who you become. Who you become is how you win. And, of course, you can take that with you because you stay you. You leave your body behind, thank goodness! Thank goodness! Good riddance, right? But you get to keep going on. And what you become stays with you. You get to take that with you. It kind of makes sense, doesn’t it?
Trials produce endurance
That’s what we’re going to be talking about here. Count it all joy when you fall into various trials. Why? Because testing your faith produces endurance. It puts you in shape.
You know when you’re first learning how to run cross country, when you first start, it hurts. You’re out of breath all the time. You might even throw up, but you get endurance as you keep going. And you finally get to the point where you can stop worrying about surviving a race and start trying to win a race.
This word translated trials is dokimion. We can see this word in 1 Peter 1:7. In 1 Peter 1:7, we’re going to see two words: genuineness is this same word dokimion that’s translated tested, testing in James 1:3. Genuineness will be the same word. And then the verb form of that word is going to be tested. So, let me just read 1 Peter 1:7.
that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire—
You get proved to see that you’re genuine. That’s the same idea here. So we have faith, and the faith gets proven to see that it is genuine. It gets completed. It gets refined. It turns from ore into gold. That’s the idea here.
And how do you go from ore to gold? You go from ore to gold with difficulty. The difficulty is where the refining comes in.
We can look at this perspective, and if we have the perspective of “I trust God that his reality that he tells me is true, and the reality that I kind of make up with what I see in my own imagination is not true.” That’s step one. That’s one thing I control: who I trust.
And God’s reality is that my purpose on earth is to go from ore to gold, and I do that through difficulty, and I’m being refined, and that’s a good thing, and that’s how I win. That’s how I get what I really want, the joy of looking for something and finding it, even if it’s something unexpected.
As a matter of fact, the Bible tells us it will be unexpected. “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor is it even entered into the heart of man what he has for those who love him.” It’s going to be so amazing if we become this gold rather than ore. It’s going to be so amazing! It’s beyond our capabilities to understand it.
Winning is going to go way beyond what we can even imagine. But it takes faith because it’s in another dimension and in a later time. Both of which are very difficult to embrace.
But if we choose that perspective, then we can look at difficult circumstances and say, “I don’t like these circumstances.” Does anybody actually like cross country practice? Are there people who actually enjoy that? It’s just hard!
Eric, when you had all the kids going through here, what did you call that training thing? What is it? Reach Your Potential! Reach your potential! It’s so biblical. It’s James! You could put James 1:3 on there, underneath it. Did the kids really enjoy those first weeks? What did they feel like after the first week? Sore, tired.
But the ones that dropped out, what happened to them? They didn’t reach their potential, right? The ones that kept going, did they start saying, “Hey, this is amazing! Look what I can do now!” They got stronger. They got faster. They got quicker. That’s the way we’re supposed to look at this. Man, this hurts. I don’t like it. I don’t want to keep doing it. But I’m going to keep going.
Now, we’re trying to prove our faith. We’re trying to refine our faith. Are we trying to get faith? Are we trying to see if our faith is real and true or not? Are we really Christians? Is James writing and saying, “Hey, count it all joy because by going through these difficulties, you’ll find out if you really believed in Jesus or not”? Would that even make any sense?
Enough faith to look
What does it take to have Jesus as your Savior? How much faith? Enough faith to look, right? As the serpent was lifted up in the wilderness so the Son of Man must be lifted up so that whoever believes will not perish but have everlasting life. Right?
The serpent was lifted up in the wilderness. Why? People had been bitten with poison, and they were going to die. And God told Moses, put a serpent on a stake and lift it up; and if people will just look, the poison won’t kill them. All they have to do is look. They can even be skeptical, but they have to look. And if they look, the poison won’t kill them.
And what Jesus is saying in John 3 is, look, humanity has poison. They’re bitten by a snake! The poison’s called sin! And sin leads to death. And I put Jesus up on a pole. And if they’ll have enough faith to look and say, “If I look, I’ll get healed,” then they’ll have everlasting life. That’s all the faith it takes. We’re not talking about that faith.
And think about this: It says that we’ll have eternal life, but you have to make sure that faith hangs in there and keeps going and endures. And if it doesn’t endure till the end, then it’s not real faith. Well, would that make any sense here?
If that’s the case, then you can’t be a Christian unless you go through difficulty and persecution. You can’t be one because you have to prove it, right? That’s what that would mean. No. No, that doesn’t make any sense at all.
What we’re talking about is proving our faith so we can win. Becoming complete.