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An Introduction to the Book of James
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion:
Greetings (v. 1).
The letter of James lacks many of the usual characteristics of a letter. It is called a “general epistle” because it wasn’t written to a specific person or church. It could be classified as a book of wisdom (similar to the OT book of Proverbs).
Author: James, the brother of Jesus.
James was not a follower of Jesus until after the resurrection (John 7:5; 1 Cor. 15:7). He became a leader of the Jerusalem church (Acts 12:17; 15:13; 21:8; Gal. 2:9, 12) and was executed in A.D. 62.
Date: Probably around A.D. 45.
Recipients: Jewish Christians living outside Palestine.
Theme: Living out one’s faith.
Joy in Trials
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds (v. 2).
Depending on the context, the Greek word for “trials” (peirasmos) can be translated either “trials” or “temptation.” Trials are troubles. In our lives, we face “various kinds” of troubles (illness, loss of a loved one, financial difficulty). What are the normal responses to trials? Sadness, discouragement, and anger. But what does James say? “Count it all joy.” (This, of course, does not mean that we should desire trouble or that we should not be sad when a loved one dies.)
Why should we “count it all joy” when we face trials?
Trials can help us reach our goal: spiritual maturity.
Trials are like difficult, strenuous physical exercise. When you exercise, you often have a goal (lose weight, lower blood pressure, get in shape for a sporting event). Of course, exercising is voluntary; trials are not.
To be “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (v. 4) is to be spiritually mature. To be spiritually mature means to be like Jesus. To be like Jesus, is a goal we won’t be able to fully reach in this life, but we shouldn’t “lower the bar.” Paul wrote, “Not that I…am already perfect, but I press on….” (Phil. 3:12).
James gives us three facts about trials:
1. Trials test our strength (v. 3a).
A physical fitness test shows us how physically strong we are. Trials show us how spiritually strong we are.
The Greek word for “testing” (dokimion) is used only one other time in the NT. “In this [salvation] 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). The fire shows what is pure gold and what is not.
2. Trials can increase our endurance (vv. 3b-4).
It’s sometimes said, “No pain, no gain.” Trials cause us to exercise our faith and the result is spiritual endurance (“steadfastness”). Verses 9-11 also teach us that our trials (such as poverty) are temporary.
3. Trials can be rewarding (v. 12).
The type of “crown” that James has in mind is the laurel wreath that was given to winners in the ancient athletic games. “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize. So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable” (1 Cor. 9:24-25). We need to “commit to be fit.”