Bible Passage: James 1:1-18
This letter begins with an introduction and a blessing. The writer calls himself James, and whilst there are a few different people called James mentioned in the New Testament, it is most likely that this is James the half-brother of Jesus (the same James that we see leading the Jerusalem church in Acts 12:17 and 15:13).
The letter is written to believers who have been going through a hard time. They are Jewish Christians who have been scattered from Jerusalem through persecution and are suffering for their faith (see verse 2). James gets straight to the point and speaks about the trials they are facing right at the start of his letter.
James’ approach might seem counter-intuitive at first, but he encourages them to rejoice because of the trials they are facing. This is not to say that trials are positive in and of themselves, but rather that they are something God uses to help us grow. The trials we face test our faith, and in this crucible of fire, steadfastness is produced. It is through trials that we grow a depth of faith that stands the test of time.
In addition to emphasising the great value trials can have, James helps his recipients to live in the midst of sufferings, as he shares four things we need in order to handle suffering well.
Wisdom From God (v5-8): It is often in times of trial that we can become uncertain what to do. The things we had thought of as stable in our lives have become shaky and there are no obvious ways out. In addition, the suffering can leave us exhausted, hurting, tired and emotional, and this can make it hard to know what is best. In our suffering we need wisdom from God. James encourages his readers with the truth that God is always willing to give his wisdom. As we ask with faith, God will give us wisdom, which makes all the difference in how we handle our trials.
Perspective on Life (v9-11): When we are going through hard times it is easy to get consumed by our circumstances and think that our current struggles are the final word. But James points out that those of us in lowly circumstances right now are being raised up by God. As believers in Christ we share in his glory and his heavenly riches. It is also possible for those of us who are comfortable to think that is the final word and rest easy in our stuff rather than relying on God. But in the scope of eternity our lives and possessions are minuscule, and one day we will be gone like a flower in the field. There is no ground for boasting in anything other than God and what he has done for us.
A Promise From God (v12-16): James’ promise of blessing here is similar to the beatitudes of Jesus in Matthew 5:3-12. For those who face temptation and overcome there is a promise of reward. Temptation is not the same as the trials that have been mentioned earlier, but often the two can go hand in hand and the trials we face can lead to temptations. Temptation does not come from God but from our own desires within. Those desires are a fork in the road. They are not sin in and of themselves, and if we endure temptation there is the promise of the crown of life. But if we indulge these desires they lead to sin and ultimately to death. Hard times may prompt the desire to sin (as may good times), but there is the promise from God that we can cling to as we seek to do what is right.
Gratitude For God’s Gifts (v17-18): In difficult times, remembering the good gifts God has given can help us to keep walking with him. He has given us all things, culminating in the gift of his son that we may be born again as first fruits of the new creation. As we remember this and are thankful for it, we will suffer well.
The Christian life is not necessarily easy or trouble free. Trials will come, but trials need not take us out of the game. God has a purpose for us in the hardships we face, and as we hold on to Christ and his truth, then we will be will equipped to live faithfully in our times of trial.
- There is lots to pray for in here – asking for wisdom, repenting of sin, giving thanks for good gifts. You could have a time of open prayer or prayer in groups where you pray into some of these things.
- Some will be struggling with temptation. This is a good moment to encourage those who have sinned to turn back to God and those who have not given in to continue enduring. Also point to the forgiveness that we have through the cross.
- There will be people in the congregation going through difficult trials at the moment. A time of ministry response where you pray for those people would be appropriate.