“James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion:
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” – James 1.1-12
James 1.1 “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings.”
Here we have James opening greeting. It is here we find out who the writer is, James and who the people whom he sending it too, the twelve tribes.
It is because of this greeting here that this work was once upon a time accepted to be a letter. Now modern scholars aren’t sure what exactly to classify it as. While the beginning verse is a perfect form for an epistle, the rest matches another form. Some classify it as a Wisdom letter in the same sense of much of Hebrew wisdom literature, based on form and content (Such as Proverbs or the extra-biblical book Sirach or even fashioned after some Wisdom texts found in Qumran). It should be noted however that James’ audience was not the same as a Hebrew sage. Unlike Sirach who was addressing students in a wisdom school or some sort equivalent, he was addressing a Christian community and their problems.
That James would have come in contact which such works as Sirach shouldn’t be a surprise since (if we assume James the Just) he would have been in very heart of Jewish-Christian and pure Judaism world thus would have debated various Jewish ethical traditions and thus would have encountered Ben Sirach and his wisdom. Even as I make this make this connection with James’ being a Wisdom work, and its connection with extra-biblical works, James seems to have filtered this all through biblical materials and remains biblical. (Just to quickly mention James has been classified also an exhortation and even Midrash)
James addresses himself simply as “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” It’s interesting to note that James doesn’t preclude to himself any sort of special title, or that he doesn’t give himself a more detailed note of who he is. James is simply James. It shows that this James was indeed someone of note, as he can simply say his name, and people knew who it was. Most scholars agree that this James if he is anyone in the New Testament must be James the Just, that is the brother of Jesus. Also of importance is that James the Just was one of the more important leaders within the early Christianity as he was the head of the Jerusalem Church. James doesn’t call himself the brother of Jesus though, which is slightly troubling, but is has been suggested that he might see this as basis for authority, perhaps proven by Mark 3.33-35?
The other interesting thing with this is that James opens us and tells us that he a Servant of God, which is the same title which is used of Moses, and other important figures in the Old Testament. This title indicates humility as one comes not in their name, but in their master’s, in James’ case God and Jesus’.
Modern day scholars have started to debate the idea that James the Just (or any James) really wrote the work. I mention this because by changing the author you change the time and place, who the audience were and etc. By going with James the Just one goes with an earlier date for the book, due to the commonly accepted time of James’ death and probable time of AD 62. Oesterley in his commentary on James points out “that weighty arguments can be adduced against both sets for considerations.” In brief I will mention that based on James’ speaking parts in acts in comparison to his letter, the use of early words like Synagogue in the letter, and others prove a point for James. While such things as the Greek used, lack of defined Christology and others prove a point against James. Some points can be even used to prove either side such as the lack of the mention of the temple. In either case the writer was clearly a Jewish-Christian writer, and I share the idea that it was indeed James the Just.
“To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings.” Looking then at James the Just as the writer who were the people he addresses? Merely looking at the greeting one gets the idea that the people are Jewish Christians who have been displaced into some other Roman territory. Some appear to connect this Diaspora to the one mentioned in Acts 1.8, while others see it as the various Jews or Jewish-Christians who have been in the Diaspora since the captivity. In the former case then it’s easy to see why the mention of trials in important in the next part, but in the latter one has the idea that even though Jesus had come as Wall puts it “believers continue to face the hardships and heartaches of the Diaspora that test their devotion God. So even now as we read James’ Epistle was can relate quite with the audience. In the fact that Jesus has come but there are still many trials and hardships which have come as well.
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,” – James 1.2
As mentioned above the audience whom James wrote was in a crisis. It seems that the audience is going through some sort of problem daily. “When you meet trials of various kinds,” It’s interesting to note that as James was writing of the trials of differing kinds how real that is to us even to this day in our busy lives which spring up all sorts of problems.. As his audience back then was going through all sorts of trials, even now we too have our own trials of various kinds and James’ words are easily transferred. James is against the idea that once one has Christ trials will fade away. In truth trials are still to come, but they have the benefit of making one stronger. We are after all “to count it a joy when we meet trials” and not to bewail our problems.
This joy which we are commended to have isn’t one that detaches us from reality, instead we are too look at trials with a joy in knowing that through it we may grow. It is a real joy and not some fleeting hope. Nor are we to go searching for problems and looking for trials; that isn’t the point either. The idea that we should rejoice though in trial shouldn’t be a new one. Again and again it has been repeated in the bible. One time Jesus said
“”Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.” Luke 6.22-23
Or as Saint Paul writes.
“And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit,” 1 Thessalonians 1.6
It is joy which is achieved when one changes their perspective from the problem and instead focuses on the right things on God. One will have problems with this joy, but (as will be seen in verse 5) one needs the wisdom which is given by God to have this help. Often by looking at things in a different light we find that things are better than we could have hope. How better it would be if we would often try to focus on what might be gained instead of what has been lost. James words back then are as important to us now, to focus on the better side of trials.
“for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” 1.3-4
We often come to this metaphor of our faith being tested in the Bible. As I have made mention of James being Wisdom literature this same theme is found over and over again in the Wisdom of literature of the Old Testament. How often we find this idea of our faith being tested. Did not Job once cried:
“But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.” (23.10).
Or did not one of the sages of Proverbs say
“The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the Lord tests hearts.” (17.3)?
It is even a theme found often in the intertestamental literature.
“My son, if you come forward to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for testing. … For gold is tested in the fire, and acceptable people in the furnace of humiliation. Trust in him amid diseases and poverty” (Sirach 2.1,5)
Other places in the New Testament also focus on this portion of wisdom. As Peter once said
“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” – 1 Peter 1.6-7
As noted we need to focus on the idea of joy instead of misery. And what better way than to realize that every trial, and every problem we have, can help to bring us closer to God? How wonderful the idea that our faith before the time of testing might rough will at the end of it become as gold.
We are asked to be steadfast we are asked to not lose heart, so that this expectation of a better outcome does indeed come true. James tells us to have joy, to expect trials, but he also tells us that even as we are enduring our trials to keep heart. To think that once we have Jesus all trials fade away is wrong. James says the opposite of that as do many of the other New Testament writers. But we are to endure, with the help of God we are to endure.
“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” – James 1.5-8
With the words of verse five we see two themes which will appear again later in the text, Wisdom and being double-minded. The connection with James 1.2-4 and this portion of James’ advice on trials might seem a little strange, but if one looks at some wisdom literature, then the idea of trials and wisdom being connected is all the more apparent.
“For at first she [Lady Wisdom] will walk with him on tortuous paths, she will bring fear and cowardice upon him and will torment him by her discipline until she trusts his soul, and she will test him with her ordinances.” Sirach 4.17
Again it is in this portion of the letter which we see that he seems to be filtering other forms of Wisdom through a biblical lens as for what it is needed. Thus he uses Sirach in saying that Wisdom come with trials, but Wisdom comes ultimately through the request of God.
That being the important thing of verse five, that if he would come to God for help, for wisdom in the various trials, then God would indeed give it us. It echoes Proverbs 2.3-6 quite well
“yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;”
If we are earnest in searching for Wisdom then we shouldn’t have any fear in not finding it. Looking at the way the Hebrew Wisdom works we see that having wisdom kept one from immorality and it allowed them to be more accepting of the Lord. Thus by asking God for wisdom one does indeed ask for a better outlook at trials and leaning on God far better.
James also seems to be echoing his brother’s words. In Matthew 7.7-11 we read:
“”Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”
Of course James does add that in asking for Wisdom it has to be in faith. God gives this sort of wisdom, this grace to all liberally, but faith is involved and being doubled-minded is thus looked down upon. Faith here isn’t the same as faith in some “doctrine,” but instead on the actions and character of God. If one wants wisdom from God, but they keep turning back to the problem, to the trial at hand and really give themselves no hope of getting out it. What use would it be for God give them wisdom? Moreover the doubt the double-mindedness which is mentioned within this portion is something that is strong.
James is not speaking of a little doubt, but a strong doubt that splits you. A doubt where you are continually dwelling on the bad. How can get things better if our mind is overweighed so? Faith here is the idea of full trust in God and not being wishy-washy in him. If one really does believe that God can help them. That he can and will give wisdom then there is no fear that he won’t do it. Sure one may a little apprehension in how it’s going to all work out, but one cannot feel that their prayer has done nothing at all. If we pray for the wisdom we need, we need to have faith that God will deliver.
“Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits?
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” – James 1.9-12
We come back to two differing ideals of trials the hardships that accompany poverty and the vast temptations that go along with wealth. We all come from different backgrounds most people are poorer, but some are richer. In verse nine we get the idea of that though one is poor they have been exalted through their closeness to God. (Please note that it refers to the poor as a ‘brother’, hence the idea that he is a fellow believer). It would be quite likely if we take the audience to having been displaced recently that they were once richer people, made poor because of the Diaspora. Or perhaps being in a foreign land just wasn’t good for them. But we have to remember that the poor are often the one most loved by God and thus “their exaltation.” They are always promised by God that in end though they are now poor they shall be rich.
The first part of verse ten is a little difficult to figure out what is going on. It could be that the Wealthy one is another Brother then it seems that James is saying boast not in his riches but in what the world considers a humiliation, that is Christ. But James may also be discussing an unbelieving rich man and thus he is saying go ahead and boast, for in the end it will mean nothing. I tend to prefer the former, but both are plausible. With last part of ten through eleven following as a warning that being that while one may be rich now, they could at any moment become poor, perhaps through another Diaspora.
Wealth fades away and thus it shouldn’t be any ones focal point. We shouldn’t focus on the idea that if we have wealth then we’ll be free from trials. That not true. We need focus on God and that is the only way that we’ll be able to truly have joy in trials, we’ll still have them, but we’ll handle them better. Thus we get the idea as Moo points out that the poor shouldn’t think too lowly of themselves, nor that the rich should think to highly of themselves.
In the end we get the idea that no matter our position in life the important thing is our relationship with God. If we are poor we should feel exalted that we have Christ. If rich we should remember that wealth is fleeting and while we may be rich now, true richness is only with Jesus. Therefore as we find ourselves in trials we need to focus on God and not on the things of the world. Fully focused on God and avoid being double-minded.
We have seen that trials are a part of life. No one can escape them certainly not the poor, but also not those with wealth. But as we go through trials in life we need to focus on the good instead of the bad, on the end result which trials can bring us. Genuine faith. God is with us, we shouldn’t forget that and we should have full faith as we ask him to help us. To give the wisdom we need for the trials up ahead. As you go along with your next trial try and think of what you think would be the best option for what is come, remember to lean on God.
Trials produce faith and faith is that wonderful thing which every Christians should have. James tells us in the end
“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” James 1.12.
Let us then try to stand the test and await the crown which God has promise for us.
Endnotes (Full Citation will be given at the end of this James Series)
 (Dunn 1148)
 (Harrington 26 Dunn 1148)
 (Harrington 28)
 (DeSilva 195)
 (Wall 552)
 See IVP James Article by Wall
 (Mayer 31)
 (Wall 545)
 (Dunn 1147)
 (Dunn 1148)
 (370 Leahy JBC)
 (Davids 63)
 (Leahy 370)
 (Nicott 390)
 Following paragraph refer to Nicott 391-400)
 (Wall 548)
 (Dunn 1148)
 (Wall 548)
 (Wall 557)
 (Dunn 1148)
 (Barclay 47)
 (Davids 67-68, Erdman16)
 (Erdman 16)
 (Erdman 16)
 (Davids 71)
 (Moo 57) See Sirach 4.17 or Wisdom 9.6
 (Moo 57)
 (Moo 57)
 (Nicott 423)
 (Moo 60)
 (Erdman 16)
 (Erdman 16)
 (Moo 65)
 (Moo 65)
 (Leahy 371)
 For both sentences (Moo 66-67)
 (Moo 68)