SBC Banner


Wednesday in the Word

Second Baptist Church

September 19, 2012

James 1:1-18

  1. The writer is most likely the son of Mary the mother of Jesus, James. He is writing to Jewish Christians who have been dispersed from Jerusalem. In Acts 2:9-11, we read of all the distant places Jews had come from to observe the Feast of Pentecost. These folks had already been dispersed abroad, before the death of our Lord. When we come to Acts 8:1, we read of the persecution that resulted from the stoning of Stephen, and we are told “they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.” Surely when Jewish converts to Christ dispersed to distant places there were many questions that these new believers needed to have answered. We need to view this epistle as having been written during a very critical transitional period in the history of the church. This is at a time when Old Testament Jewish saints have come to faith in the Messiah, aware that they are living in a new dispensation, and that they are now participants in the New Covenant. How are Jewish Christians to relate their faith in Jesus Christ to their Jewish heritage? These things James begins to deal with from a Jewish perspective. Paul will also explore these matters from a more gentile-oriented point of view.

  2. Verses 1-4. James chapter 1 deals with the way the Christian should handle adversity. His teaching should be understood against the backdrop of some false assumptions held by many Jews, including our Lord’s disciples. Based upon God’s covenant promises with Israel (Deuteronomy 28-31), individual Jews were inclined to expect God to invariably bless them materially in response to pious living. Conversely, they expected that those who did evil were to experience divine discipline in various forms. In short, they expected God to bless them for doing good and to punish others for their sin. We see this mindset revealed by Job’s friends in the Book of Job. In truth, Job was being tested with adversity because of his piety, and not because of sin (Job 1:1-12). Even our Lord’s disciples bought into this thinking. When they came upon the man who was born blind, they revealed their wrong assumptions when they asked the Master, “Rabbi, who committed the sin that caused him to be born blind, this man or his parents?” (John 9:2b). James is going to give his readers the same type of answer Jesus gave the disciples and expand on it some.

    1. First, we should expect adversity as the rule, rather than the exception. (see 1 Peter 4:12), Adversity need not be sought; it will surely come our way.

    2. Second, James informs us that these trials will come in many different forms“all sorts of trials” (verse 2).

    3. Third, James instructs us that when we encounter these trials, we are to wholeheartedly rejoice in them, knowing that God has sent them into our lives as a part of His sanctifying process. These trials, James writes, are a testing of our faith. Adversity tests the strength of our faith:

    4. Adversity is like a stress test, pushing us up to and beyond our limits, so that we will recognize our dependence upon God, and call on Him for help in the time of trouble. Adversity is designed to produce endurance in our lives. And this endurance perfects us, so that we will become complete, lacking nothing. James forces us to look at ourselves – and at the process of sanctification – in an entirely different light. So many people think of themselves as basically okay, except for their sin. They admit they need Jesus to forgive their sins, but they feel that the rest of their life does not need any radical change. God brings adversity into our lives to show us our deficiencies, and as we see these deficiencies, we realize that we must cry out to God to supply what we lack. The entire Christian life is a process of recognizing our deficiencies, and seeking His grace to supply our needs. The process of sanctification is never completed in this life, but when we are complete, we will lack nothing, because He has amply provided for our every deficiency. To resist and detest adversity is to resist the sanctifying and perfecting work of God in our lives. To rejoice is to embrace His perfecting work in us.

  3. Verses 5-8. James assumes that everyone is deficient in wisdom because we do not know what to do in all situations. If there is ever a time when our lack of wisdom is apparent, it is when we are in the midst of adversity. We need wisdom to rightly assess our situation and to determine our response to it. At times like this, we need divine wisdom, which we do not possess within ourselves. It is the kind of wisdom which God possesses, and which He promises to give to those who ask for it. James goes on to encourage us to pray for wisdom by assuring us not only that God will answer our prayer for wisdom, but that He will do so without shaming or humiliating us. This is because He is glorified when we confess our dependency and His sufficiency. God delights in the fact that we express our dependence on Him. James sets down only one condition and that is that we pray in faith, without wavering. It is never wrong to pray for wisdom, and there is never a time when God will not grant us that wisdom – except when we ask with an inner wavering. This wavering is a vacillation between one thing and another. In verse 9, James tells us that this wavering fellow is “double-minded,” literally “two-souled.” This term is found only twice in the New Testament, and both times it is in the Book of James. Notice the second instance of this term in James 4:8, in context: James is talking about pride and humility. God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble (verse 6). The saints are encouraged to submit to God and to resist the devil (verse 7). They are to humble themselves before the Lord, who will exalt them (verse 10). They are to grieve, mourn, and weep. To be double-minded in chapter 4 was to waver between submitting to God or to the devil. It would appear that it was to waver between humility and pride (pride being a very devil-like characteristic). Thus, it would seem that the choice was either between drawing near to God in adversity or arrogantly going one’s own way, which is also Satan’s way. Often times we don’t really want to follow the wisdom of God which sometimes indicts our fleshy desires. Sometimes we would rather just be sinful then submit to God’s perfect way.

  4. Verses 9-12. In turning to wealth and poverty, James has not really changed subjects. In the Jewish mind, wealth was the measure of one’s piety or goodness. The good were expected to prosper, while the wicked were to suffer. This is why our Lord’s story of the “Rich man and Lazarus” in Luke 16:19-31 was so shocking to the Jews who heard it. James wants both the rich and the poor to see their circumstances from an eternal perspective. Note, however, that James indicates to us that there will be both rich saints and poor saints, and both of them are exhorted to respond to their circumstances in a godly manner. He does not accept the premise that the pious prosper and the wicked suffer. It has never been very difficult for me to understand James’ words to the poor man, instructing him to take pride in his high position. After all, Jesus said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20). But what of the rich man? How can James say that he is to take pride in his humiliation? What is his humiliation, and how can he take pride in it? The rich man’s humiliation is his earthly demise. And so the rich man is to realize that his earthly wealth is nothing, in comparison with the heavenly wealth that awaits him. Since it is his earthly demise that takes him to heaven, the rich man exults in his death, his humiliation. Even the rich man on earth is not really rich compared to heavenly riches that await him which are eternal.

  5. Verses 13-18. It isn’t difficult to see a connection between adversity and temptation. In the midst of adversity, we may be tempted to think or act in a sinful manner. Many folks wrongly conclude that times of stress somehow justify sinful behavior. Verses 13-18 take up the subject of the double-minded man, mentioned in verse 8. The double-minded person wavers between humble submission to God and prideful disobedience. It is that proud disobedience which seems to underlie the logic that blames God for our sin and names Him as the source of our temptation. James speaks in very absolute terms in verses 13-18. He says that one should never blame God for the temptation we face. Temptation, James tells us, comes from deep within us, and not from God. Jesus made this clear as well in Mark 7:18-23, when he shares that sin comes from deep within us not from outside of us. Temptation comes from within the one tempted. It begins with desire, and when this desire is nurtured, the fruit it bears is sin. And sin results in death. Sin and death are the result of a sequence of events, all of which begin with a desire which is not proper, and which is not rejected and resisted.

click here to select another lesson