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James, the Lord’s brother, wrote this remarkable letter. Some Christians have found it a little deficient in “gospel,” but this is largely the result of a deficient view of Scripture, coupled with a deficient view of the nature of the gospel. God’s gospel kindness to us is woven throughout the epistle.
“James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting. My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience . . .” (Jas. 1:1-27).
Summary of the Text
The letter from James is a general one, written to the “twelve tribes” out there (v. 1). When various trials arise, reckon it to be your joy (v. 2). The reason for this is that the trials are not senseless (v. 3). There is a point to them, which is our maturity (v. 4). If any of us lack wisdom (about what is going on in this process), we should ask God, and He will provide it for us (v. 5). In such requests, we must not waver (v. 6). Wobbly prayers in this regard don’t go far (v. 7). This is because a double-minded man is unstable in all things (v. 8), and not just in his prayer life. A low position is actually an exalted one (v. 9). This world’s riches are the inverse of that (v. 10). The rich man browns up nicely, just like the flowers in a high meadow in August (v. 11). But the man who endures trial receives the crown of life when all is said and done (v. 12).
But temptation does not come from God (v. 13). Temptation arises from within (v. 14). This process leads steadily downward to death (v. 15). Don’t make a mistake about what comes from where (v. 16). Good gifts come down from the immutable God of Heaven (v. 17). And it was His will to bring regeneration about in us (v. 18).
So then, be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger (v. 19). Man’s anger is not doing God’s work (v. 20). So set aside the attitudinal junk (v. 21), and quit saying you can’t. James just told you to. Do the Word, and don’t just listen to it (v. 22). Hearers only are absent-minded mirror-gazers (vv. 23-24). But look into the text, the perfect law of liberty, and you will truly see yourself there (v. 25). Vain religion is the religion of the unbridled tongue (v. 26). True religion rescues others from their troubles, and stands pure and apart from the world (v. 27).
Asking for Joy
Now it is the easiest thing in the world to lift v. 5 out of context, and say that if you lack wisdom about any decision whatever, all you have to do is ask, and God will supply the answer. This job or that one? This major or that one? This car or that one? But the context here is plainly saying that if anyone lacks wisdom about how to receive trials with joy, learning patience to the point where we lack nothing, then that person should ask God to supply the requisite wisdom. Don’t be dishonest or double-minded in it, and God promises to give this sort of wisdom liberally, abundantly. The crown of life awaits us on the other side of an endured trial—provided we love the Lord (v. 12).
This doesn’t mean that you cannot pray for wisdom about other decisions (of course not), but it does mean you can’t do that if you are not praying for wisdom to rejoice in your troubles. If you do that, you are inverting the promise, not expanding it. You are trying to treat God as a giant convenience store in the sky.
Trials and Temptations
In Greek, the word for trial and the word for temptation are the same word, with our distinction for them certainly present, but contextually determined. James tells us here that we are to consider trials a joy (v. 2), but also says that temptations do not come from God (v. 13). Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil (Matt. 4:1). A few chapters later, He teaches us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer with a request that our Father lead us not into temptation (Matt. 6:13). Who is doing what? The same situation is a trial or a temptation based on the perspective of the one testing or luring. Given the Lord’s time in the wilderness, what did the devil want and what did the Spirit want?
The Transience of Wealth
A man with the right sort of troubles is a man who is matriculating in God’s character course. Rejoice that you have been accepted into the program, and rejoice in the challenging work that comes with it. The rich man is deceived—if he accepts the present moment as a permanent moment, which is what the temptation usually is. A rich man should rejoice in the transience of his wealth, so that he might have true wealth. The poor man rejoices in the true wealth that is ahead of him, and he knows what God’s intention for him is.
The Genesis of Sin
Sin is not dropped on us from Heaven. Let no one say when he is tempted that God is seeking to lure him into sin. Where does sin come from then? Each man’s lust (desire) leads to sin, and sin leads to death.
True religion begins with regeneration (v. 13). Of His own will, He begets us. God works mysteriously, inexorably, and we cannot fully understand it. From our perspective, what are we to do? We recognize the problem with our rashness and anger (vv. 19-20). We are called to “lay aside” our sinfulness, and we are told to “receive with meekness” the engrafted word—which then does the work of saving our souls.
When this happens, a man starts to do what he reads. He stops looking in the mirror of forgetfulness. This man does what he reads because he sees himself in the mirror—he doesn’t hold up the mirror to look around the rest of the congregation. He therefore guards his tongue. He therefore is kind to the widow. He therefore keeps himself aloof from worldliness. This is the regenerate man.